Social skills must be learned by some; for others, they come naturally. My last post, Social Skills: Small Talk, offered some tips to teach your children if they feel awkward participating in casual talk. But, it might be something else that interferes with their social skills.
It was my first year to teach elementary school. I had a class of sixth graders for all subjects except physical education. Because we were together so much, we became family. In addition to academics, I cared about each one’s personal needs. I worried about Susie’s home life, Jake’s arrogance over his good grades, Steve’s need to talk continually, and Karen’s shyness. As the year progressed, I saw improvement in many children’s issues.
Michael’s Weird Noises
However, there was one child I’ll call Michael whose social skills didn’t improve. He was shunned by his classmates because of annoying habits. One that drove everyone nuts was that he made weird noises and thought they were hysterically funny. No one else was amused. I watched kids walk away from him on the playground. Occasionally, some reacted negatively, telling him to “knock it off.” The more kids avoided him, the more his weird behavior escalated. It was a vicious cycle.
Social Skills of Preteens
Eleven- and twelve-year-olds are on the edge of becoming sophisticated teens. They don’t want anyone to think they enjoy the silliness of childhood. His behavior may have gotten laughs in the second grade, but not in sixth grade.
Sometimes, the cute little behaviors of our preschoolers become barriers that keep them from making friends in school. It may be cute for four-year-old Tim to dominate conversations, tell others what to do, or make weird noises. However, those traits do not endear him to his preteen peers. It’s important that we look at childish behaviors and ask ourselves, “Will others enjoys these actions, or will they make Tim stand out as strange or annoying?” If you notice a behavior that will be socially unacceptable to friends, it’s best to make the changes before your child begins school.
Using Behavior Modification to Improve Social Skills
However, what if you realize that one of those annoying actions is solidly ingrained into your preteen’s behavior? The most effective way to eliminate a behavior is a technique called behavior modification. Before you begin, talk to your child to enlist his cooperation.
Basically, it requires that you reward your child when he goes for a specified amount of time without doing the annoying action. You can keep up with the “credits” he earns by tokens in a jar or marks on a chart. The important point is that you be absolutely consistent. In the case of making weird noises, you can give a token for every thirty minutes that he is “weird-noise free.” Behavior modification is much more effective if reward is given for positive behavior instead of punishment for negative behavior which should be ignored.
At intervals in the program, he can use his credits for one of a few prearranged rewards. The rewards don’t have to be expensive. I worked with a mom and her nine-year-old daughter whose reward—chosen by the girl—was an outing to get ice cream and go to the park with Mom.
The cure rate? There is almost always a successful ending if the parent is consistent. Most of the time, the behavior can be eliminated in less than two weeks.
It’s Worth the Hard Work
As difficult as this will be, it seems a short time when you consider a lifetime of good social skills for your child.
Did I resolve the problem for the boy in my sixth grade class? No, I didn’t. I was a young, inexperienced teacher. If I could have a “re-do,” I would work with the mom as both of us used behavior modification to eliminate the weird noises.