Studies have shown that kids who are bullied and rejected by members of their peer group are also likely suffering and struggling in other areas of their life. They are also prone to an increase in poor grades, truancy, mental health problems and an increase in alcohol, or substance abuse later on in life.
Although there are many factors that contribute to social isolation, the following are the most common. All three involve the child’s inability or difficulty to understand and respond to the social cues of others.
1. Being able to read non-verbal cues: Behaviors such as rolling eyes, not being looked at in the eye and distractibility are all social cues which indicate that the person we are talking to is no longer interested in what we are saying. Children have difficulty recognizing cues like this, and often ignore them outright.
2. Properly understanding and interpreting non-verbal cues: Children can often sense that cues are being given to them but are not sure how to interpret them. As a result, they might continue with their behavior without realizing its effect on others.
3. Learning and carrying out appropriate options for resolving conflict: Often, children who are socially immature are not able to properly resolve conflict with their peers. These are the children who are tantrumming way beyond their toddler years, or whose patience level is so low that they become easily and quickly verbally aggressive.
4 Tips to Help Vulnerable Children
1. First, parents need to identify the struggles faced by their children and be prepared to assist them in facing them head on. Often, parents shy away from these problems because managing them seems far too overwhelming. And, perhaps acknowledging the social skills problems in their children is perceived by many parents as a reflection of their parenting technique. Parents must be open to understanding what social-skills deficits their children have and find ways within their family structure to build their children up.
2. Parents must learn to speak to their children without judgment. It is easy for parents to forget that children act impulsively and are very rarely deliberately malicious toward their peers. By talking to their children with sensitivity and understanding, and by helping their children understand the mistakes they have made, children are able to take a look at their own behavior, evaluate it in the presence of a non-threatening person (i.e. parent), and practice making changes.
3. Parents can help their children identify the cues that they might have missed while interacting with others. Instead of using ‘should have’ type statements, parents can teach their children to be more aware of the impact that their behavior has on others by asking their child to imagine themselves in the other child’s shoes. For instance, “How would you feel if Jonny interrupted you like that when you were speaking? Then maybe next time, let Jonny finish talking before you start to speak. After all, that is what you would want for yourself, is it not?” Although this exercise is simplistic, children are very visually oriented and respond well when things are laid out for them in clear, simple terms.
4. In order to solidify any newly-learned skill with our children, it is important for parents to reinforce the skill across as many situations as possible. This will help our children learn to transfer their skills and apply them in all areas of their life, social and otherwise.
Regardless of all these efforts put into place, we worry about our children and their ability to survive out there in the world. Every child is more vulnerable in one area while having more strengths in others. Even within the same family unit, our children’s needs vary drastically. As parents, it is our responsibility to acknowledge these differences and celebrate them. At the same time, we must not be afraid or embarrassed to acknowledge when our children are struggling and help them with whatever means necessary.
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