Keep the Social in Social Distancing

I’m seeing many introverts engaging more socially now due to our current, virtual world. Yay! Zoom is great for shy people as it can be less intimidating than walking up to someone in person.

Now is the perfect time to work on strategies to build your (or your child’s) social and emotional skills for when we return to “normal” in-person interactions.

The first step is to understand where you need help, and then to set achievable goals. What about interacting with others, online and in-person, causes you to avoid or delay connecting? Understanding where you need help is critical to setting up a plan.

Next, source online communities of like-minded people and in advance of the next meeting or call, practice working on these areas of concern.

SOCIAL SPY

Many feel uncomfortable when they use my social spy technique because we worry others are noticing us. Let me assuage your mind – they are not. Use this technique to gage the culture, make a mental inventory of people and what you KNOW about them, step into their shoes and figure out what hot buttons they have.

Next, practice making small talk. Bridge the gap from “Hi” to a deeper conversation. This is often easier in the virtual world as it can be less intimidating than real life, so practicing now is important.

Think about who in this larger group you might want to build a connection or friendship with. What invitation can you suggest to reach out to them individually? Look at their surroundings – what do the things in the background tell you about this person. Step into their shoes – what do they like?

Congrats on your desire to make friendships and connection important to you! Once you establish a connection, be sure to nurture the relationships by sending a message, calling or talking outside of the committee, school, workplace.

Remember to pick one thing to work on and every time you walk through a real or virtual door, to remember your intention, review the group and identify your role.

You Got This!

 

Social Spy

What is it to be a Social Spy?

The concept of Social Spy is designed to help you or your child learn to  manage concerns around social skills and social and emotional development.

Exercise: Go into a virtual or public event with a mission to be a social spy to obtain specific social information. Rehearse ahead of time in order to watch other people in a subtle, covert way and to listen without looking like you are eavesdropping. The idea is to scan and read the room to learn crucial information about peers such as how they dress, what they talk about as well as how to observe and notice other people’s behavior, mood and energy.

Collaborating Virtually at Work and School

Working or learning virtually can be a challenge especially if reading social cues and managing your communication is a challenge.  We have the technology to create and support virtual teams, but collaborating remotely requires special skills.

These tips can help build social and communication skills in a virtual setting: 

  1. Consider who is Your Audience- Think about what you know about the people in each meeting or interactions, what motivates them? What is their history with you? What are their past choices and what does that tell you about how they will react to a situation? Then if need be, pause as you adapt your communication to the audience and consider the situation and their personality.
  2. Use Video Conferencing to Watch for Social Cues- Whenever possible, use a visual medium so you can see the other person’s nonverbal signals and interpret how they feel. Reading body language and facial expressions will help you gauge how to react to the other person, identify how they are feeling and tailor your communications more effectively. Body Language can change the meaning of a simple phrase, so watch the speaker for head nods (agreement), crossed arms (defensiveness), smirking (can mean they agree and are amused or disagree and are nodding politely), and a sigh (frustration).
  3. Read the energy of the other person- Energy tells you so much about another person’s mood. People’s voice, what they say, their body language can alert you to their energy. Consider the energy of the person you are speaking to and ask yourself what does this tell you about their mood? What does that mean about your conversation and how can you adapt your approach to match their energy? The pace of the person’s language can tell you so much about their energy.
  4. Pay Attention to Context- Context is the situation, the environment, the mood, the circumstances and what has been going on. Interpreting the context can help you adjust your message to the audience you are speaking to​ and to remember their thoughts and feelings and how that impacts the conversation.
  5. Read Between the Lines- As you communicate with co-workers and friends from a distance, the way something is said can change the meaning so it is important to read between the lines. Drawn out words change the meaning of a sentence, for instance, a stress on the adjective i.e., “that is SOO nice”, changes the meaning from positive to a negative, snarky comment. Intense verb adjectives and adverbs, such love, hate, and always can be signs of sarcasm.  Reading between the lines can help translate what the person means, allowing you to make a choice on how to respond.

Change can be overwhelming. Rather than worrying about everything at once, a good approach is to pick one mission, one thing to work on and then to focus on that goal.  What you focus on will grow and develop and will help you manage your social relationships virtually.

Connection is a Verb

We’ve all heard the sayings: “Money doesn’t fall from trees,” “The early bird gets the worm,” “Make new friends but keep the old.” What do they have in common? They require action! You don’t just sit on the couch and get rich (unless you are a youtuber or creating some new and improved way to work from home – stocks are super-hot now during COVID!)… but I digress…

My goal in this post is to implore you to reach out and cultivate friends. Friends come in all forms and from all places: your kid’s school, neighbors, coworkers, place of worship, online, etc. I say connection is a verb because it requires action. You can’t make someone else do something, this is up to you, and it’s especially pressing now during social distancing.

How do you make friends? It can be easy for some of us, and painful for others – just implore the isolated friend to “just call him!” What seems “easy” for you became an exercise loaded with details, dread and potential rejection.

Building the skills to make, and keep friends, takes time…. But it is Oh, So Worth It.

Roadmap to Making and Keeping Friends:

  1. Develop Social Skills – The good news is that social skills can be developed just like any other skill. If executive functioning challenges are present, it is best to address them beforehand as developing social skills may be impacted.
  2. Engage – This is an important verb, as it may produce uncomfortable feeling while you reach outside your comfort zone. Action steps include smiling, listening, texting, inviting, joining, etc. Start with small steps but keep pushing forward, the world needs what you offer. Read about Rejection Sensitivity.
  3. Interpret – Once you are engaging, you need to be aware of others’ reactions. Are they truly listening and communicating back? Do your best to interpret verbal and non-verbal language and to adjust so that each party is enjoying the encounter.
  4. Build – Rome wasn’t built overnight (I know, I know, enough with the sayings) but this is yet another example of how long-term action is required to keep long term relationships healthy.
  5. Nurture – I was just about to add how watering friendships with love is like watering a garden… but you get the idea. Reaching out, being there, truly listening, laughing, sharing are all verbs that nurture the soul.

My mission is to vanquish social isolation and to bring together connection – in all forms. I hope you will join me! #ConnectionMatters

Dive Deeper:

Read more about social skills

Download Connection is a Verb graphic

Read more about the importance of connection by Dr. Hallowell

How to really understand what’s going on in social settings

Rejection Sensitivity & ADHD

When you experience Rejection Sensitivity, you have a heightened reaction to a real, perceived or even anticipated event, person or situation. This reaction feels all-consuming and mammoth inside you and it’s crushing – even crippling!

When this event occurs, even if it is a small non-event to most, it feels enormous and can literally is paralyze you. This overwhelming physical sensation feels unbearable and on a scale of 1 to 10 – it is 10+! What matters here is how it makes you feel; not the actual situation.

Our brains are ancient, so when they perceives a threat, our body and brain go into fight, flight or freeze modes. The situation feels so intense because your brain is in “survival” mode and a deeply, automatic programmed neurological alarm is going off to warn you to get away as if  a saber tooth tiger is literally coming to eat you…

…and you go into fight, flight or freeze. This reaction – this rejection sensitivity –  can be past trauma or anticipation, but regardless, this fear causes a defensive cascade in the brain.

Future planning is the key to strategizing ways of softening or eliminating these reactions. To help avoid these intense reaction and calm your brain and body in the moment, I have invented the Intensity Meter so you can figure out How Intense Does It Feel?  How intense this reaction feels in your body indicates which strategy you need to use in order to restore oxygen and blood back to the deeper regions of the brain and calm your body.

3 Steps to Managing the Negative Impact of Rejection Sensitivity:

Step One: Figure out how typical intense triggers and events feel in your body.

 

 

Step Two: Now that you know how intense these emotions feel, you can begin to pick strategies ahead of time to use when your reaction has reached a 7, 8,  9 or 10  in order to stop that runaway cycle, and help regain control so it returns to the wise-thinking brain.  This calming is like an engine of a car that is overheated and revved up. Physical strategies cue your body that “you got this”, and there is no threat and it can stop the alarm system.

There are 4 R’s to help you manage these intense reactions:

(please send an email to me if you would like to download this tool)

 

Step Three: Develop everyday strategies to keep your thinking brain in charge and fend off the runaway reaction cycle. The more you intervene with a strategy when your reaction starts, the more you can avoid your body going into fight, flight or freeze.

Watch the Youtube Episode: How To Deal With Rejection Sensitivity

Read more on how to help your child build social skills

15 Phrases to Spark a Conversation About Social Dilemmas

Talking about social challenges is never easy. For most parents, the dread of how to begin keeps us from having the conversation at all. Or it turns what could be a series of small breezy chats into an epic conversation akin to a meeting of rival nations at the UN.  Some children simply won’t engage. They do a disappearing act—scattering whenever you bring up anything.

15 phrases to spark a conversation about social dilemmas and situations for your child: 

  1. “What does it mean to be a good friend?”

Teaching our children to be good friends starts with this question. Ask your child, “Who do you know that is a good friend to you?”

  1. “Who are you playing with these days?”

With a perspective of curiosity, explore what your child is doing for fun.  Don’t leap into a lecture—just gather information.

  1. “If you could change one thing about your friendships, what would you change?”

Coaching is about exploring and being curious. Refer to something your child has said about socialization, “I keep thinking about a conversation we had the other day, and you said you dread social stuff because it’s hard for you.”

  1. “Everyone is working on something. Do you want to hear what I am working on?” Share your personal challenges, then suggest, “What if we each pick something hard and we work on it together. I think it might be good to work on your friendship skills. What do you think?”
  2. You often complain about Jenny and how she treats you. How would you like her to treat you?”

Listen (just listen—don’t jump in to correct him or argue) to how your child describes social disappointments. Acknowledge what you’re hearing and follow up with, “What makes you frustrated about Jenny?

  1. “You told me the other day that being social is hard for you. What do you mean by that?”

Explore what makes your child struggle and what makes being social hard for him. Listen and collect information. Hearing his perspective can help him open up.

  1. “What are you doing well as a friend? What can you do to be a better friend?”

Allow your child to consider her role as a friend and the fact that being a friend is a dynamic activity. Rather than telling her what she is not doing, allow her to contemplate, and problem solve.

  1. “Sometimes you tell me it’s not worth trying to meet up with friends. What makes you say that? Tell me more.”

Explore her assumptions about social life and friendship. Does she tell you she’ll “never be invited,” or “it’s not worth trying to see someone,” or she wants “to keep trying on her own?” Some responses could include, “What makes you say that? How come? Tell me more.”

  1. “What are your specific strengths? What makes something easy for you?”

Everyone has different strengths. Help him look at what he is good at and what it means to be able to have social intelligence. Follow up with, “Who do you know who is good at the same things? Who do you know that is smart about social stuff?” 

  1. “What is a story we tell ourselves? How is it different from a fact? What kind of story can be helpful? What kind of story can hold us back?”

Be ready with child-friendly examples. For instance, people once thought the world was flat. How did that limit what they thought was possible and what they were willing to try?

  1. “Did I ever tell you about my experience with friendship at your age?”

You can share an example from a “friend’s child,” or you can share something from your past, telling it with detail. This helps open your child’s thought process.

  1. “I hear you say that a lot. What do you mean by that?”

Listen to the way your child describes herself in the role she believes she has in her peer group or the family. Comments such as, “I’m always the one who gets in trouble,” “I’m just the funny girl,” “I’m such a loser,” or, “They’re just stupid,” show an underlying story or narrative, she is telling herself. Ask her about those statements or little comments she makes. Some questions you can ask, “You say you were ‘being good,’ what does being good mean?”

  1. “What about friendship makes it enjoyable?” “Which friendship is enjoyable?

Friendship should be a positive experience. Help your child look at her desires for friendship.

  1. “How much do you need to participate in school activities to be included and have friends?

It takes a certain amount of “joining in” to meet and keep friends. Some children will not be social and engage in activities. Rather than causing this to be a lightning rod topic, approach it softly and make her think.

  1. “ I notice you didn’t talk to anyone at karate yesterday. I am curious how come?”

If your child isn’t a talker or able to find the words to express himself, you can say, “I notice…” and share an observation or an image. Ask if he agrees or disagrees with your perception.

For more on how to help your child with executive functioning challenges to engage socially, join me at The Executive Function Online Summit starting August 21st. RSVP now for free

 

Top 10 Social Etiquette Faux-Pas During a Pandemic

We’re all figuring this out, yet some of us have adapted to the rules of Pandemic Protection faster and better than others. This is a weird new world, yet community and civility should not be tossed out with our disposable masks!

Some people wear masks driving alone in cars, while others claim they “don’t believe in them.” COVID is real, and its effects will last a long time. As a social skills coach, I see all types of behavior as we adjust to this mask-wearing, distancing new normal.

Here are my top observations of how to inadequately protect yourself and others.  Next time you brave a store trip or visit with a neighbor, see if you recognize yourself in these personnas.

Top 10 Etiquette Faux-Pas During a Pandemic:

  1. Bubble-Buster – These people speed up to you as if participants in The Amazing Race.  Simply turn if they are approaching and moving past you quickly, but if they are lingering, take the high road and move out of the way. When you are in a store, don’t approach someone else in the aisle, just move to the next aisle. When waiting in line, stay 6 feet apart and don’t encroach on others.
  2. Close Talker – They probably were close talkers as toddlers, but why can’t they just get it that you can’t do this now? A friendly, “do you need a mask?” will hopefully signal to them that they need to cover up their droplets. Should that not suffice, be sure to step back, turn your head and awkwardly adjust your mask in hopes they receive the message. If not, run.
  3. Squeezer – As if they have nothing better to do, these folks touch every melon in the grocery store! Please don’t pick up every can, bag and freezer item. You can’t pick things up to read labels right now. I don’t want to touch what you’ve just touched – who knows where you’ve been!
  4. Rule Police – Don’t yell out in the crowded produce area, “6 feet apart!” You didn’t make the rules, so don’t feel the need to enforce them. Let the signs and notices do that.
  5. Can’t be bothered – For heaven’s sake, just wear the mask in public! Have a mask at the ready to speak to someone at a drive up window or to say hello. Buy fresh masks and hand them to those who don’t have one. Yes, this may make them feel as if you are asserting your superiority, but in fact, you are the smart one!
  6. Confused – If you’re not sure of the appropriate etiquette, watch what others do and mirror it. Of course, with the caveat that you aren’t repeating these faux-pas!
  7. Hugger – “I’m a hugger and I can’t help it!” I hear you. I feel the same way, but please don’t hug or touch other people, even an elbow touch on an arm right now is jarring. Yes, it stinks, but it’s necessary.
  8. Pontificator – These guys expound on COVID details in excruciating detail. People are stressed, don’t start big lectures with every acquaintance. Some of us are trying to compartmentalize our fears so we can assume some form of normalcy.
  9. Hoarder – You heard of them, you may even know one or two. As if graduates of Defcon training, these sneaky people take all the toilet paper, wipes and sanitizers before the 2-limit rule was implemented. Don’t take all the supplies left on a shelf, your neighbors are watching and they will be angry because heck, they need toilet paper too!  And, it’s just plain not nice!
  10. Digital Non-native – These people don’t check their emails, rarely text and now are over-whelmed with virtual meetings. We get it, everything and everyone is online now, but please figure out how to join a Zoom meeting or provide a signature electronically. This is not going away.

There isn’t one person on the planet who wishes this pandemic was here to stay. I am tired of it. You are sick of it. And those who lost someone to it especially grieve. Let’s do the best we can to protect ourselves and others so this nightmare can be put to rest.

What Will the Fall Be Like?

Now is the time for parents to contemplate what fall will look like. None of us knows what to expect, but we can’t just adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Measures should be put into place this summer in preparation for a successful school year.

As a social skills coach, I suggest that parents review the social struggles that were most prevalent last year. Did your daughter make friends easily or did she eat alone at lunch? Now would be a good time to ask her if there were people she would like to get to know better. Are there clubs, sports, events etc. that interest her? Find out if enrollment is starting for the fall for the programs she likes. She can ask a friend to join, or do it alone with the plan of making new friends, maybe even from another town. Send a message to the guidance counselor or new teacher and explain her interest in making new friends. She isn’t the first to voice this concern.

If school work was an issue because of executive functioning challenges or attentional issues, reach out to the school administration and ask if you can turn things in differently, or later.

Video interactions are a great way to “play” with others, and older kids can go to the park, etc. with the understanding of distancing.

Now is also the time to create plans and infrastructure around the use of electronics as it is probable that remote learning will be here to stay.

Learn more about how to thrive during the pandemic

 

Virtual Playdates: Can They Really Help Build Social Skills?

Who knew playing at the playground, running on the soccer field or summer camp would be taken for granted?

Adults have an easier time staying connected to friends, but kids need to keep in touch just as much, if not more than we do.

There are many ways to keep your young one social and active with friends while on lockdown. They can continue to build on the social skills strategies that you’ve been building on over the last several months.

Ways to make virtual playdate a success

  1. Determine the social struggle – Ask yourself what your child tends to struggle with during play, such as joining in, sharing, managing emotions, becoming overly excited with a friend, being too bossy, or being too grumpy.
  2. Collaborate on the plan – Make it clear to your child that her mission for the virtual playdate is to practice that skill. For example, work on how your child talks with other children, review what you might say and what to do, role-play, and practice how a conversation might go if done virtually. Practice with family members first, and then when it comes time, help her join in with her friends.
  3. Pick the right playmate – Temperament of the playmate is important when practicing social behaviors.  A virtual environment can be more difficult than an in-person playdate, and to . Compatibility does not necessarily mean putting two like-minded children together. For example, two overly bossy, rule-oriented children might argue and a domineering child might overshadow a shy child.
  4. Choose the activities – Think about what games and activities might work well in a virtual environment in an effort to stay connected. Younger kids may not have the vocabulary or the ability to hold a long conversation, but interactive activities can be just the right mix of fun and entertainment.

Games and Activities for virtual playdates –

  • Scavenger hunt – once online,  agree on a list of things they can hunt for while on a daily walk with their parents or siblings. Right now, there are many neighborhoods putting rainbows, bears, and other creative items in their windows. Have them find and take a picture of someone’s sidewalk chalk art, hunt for a certain type of leaf or bug or count how many butterflies cross their path. The options are endless. When the hunt is over, the kids can regroup and compare notes on their next interactive virtual playdate.
  • HedBanz, Pictionary or Charades – These can easily be played virtually.
  • Storybooks – Younger kids can take turns reading to a friend. Kids can talk about characters, plot and why it’s a favorite.
  • Crafts – Set up your virtual playdate at the dining room table with supplies. Kids can talk and draw together. Have a show and tell at the end of the playdate.
  • Pen pals –  How fun would it be to stay connected by sending a friend a handwritten letter? Make it fun by including a drawing or adding one of your favorite stickers to share.

Debriefs are important

Children learn by reflecting on what they are doing and how it impacts others. The more you engage with you child, in a nonjudgmental way after the playdate is over, the better. Chat about what they did well and celebrate their effort. I heard you tell Julie what to do and what game to play. What do you think Julie felt when you told her what to choose? What choices did Julie get to make? What choices did you get to make? Let’s look at whether or not that was fair together. Then also ask your child what they struggled with and make a plan and practice for the future.

Kids can learn that even though they have to distance themselves right now, they don’t have to forget about the ties they have to their friends.

Read more about Social Skills development

and COVID resources

10 Ways to Teach Your Child Social Skills in Daily Life

Some kids learn easily how to navigate any social event and other kids do not. As a parent, you are her original teacher and you are with her day in and day out, so you can help her practice her social skills in daily life.

Consider the opportunities in daily life such as standing on the sidelines at a soccer game, playing in the park, shopping in box stores and malls, standing in line at the grocery store, going to barbeques as a chance to be your child’s social skills coach.

10 Ways to Teach Your Child Social Skills In Daily Life: 

  1. Help Your Child Become a Social Spy-Build your child’s awareness by teaching your child to be a social spy. The concept is that the child can to go into public with a mission to be a social spy where she will obtain specific social information. You will rehearse with your child ahead of time, so she learns to watch other people in a subtle, covert way and to listen without looking like she is listening. The idea is to observe a specific behavior so she can learn crucial information about her peers such as how they dress, what they talk about at lunch as well as to teach her how to observe and also notice other people’s behavior, mood, energy and to scan and read the room.
  2. Spy at a Party to Identify the Unspoken Rules-In every environment there are unspoken rules, the subtle and nuanced rules of how you are expected to behave and what is acceptable in that environment. As you take your child to different environments, practice having her enter each event to covertly spy and uncover the unspoken rules of the household. You can start by promoting her and sharing your observations then have her spy and report back.  Have her notice: Is the house casual or formal? How do the members of the family treat the furniture?​ Are they tidy, messy, do they care about organizing? What is important to them?​ Should you touch items in the house or keep your hands to yourself?
  3. Take a Box Store Field Trip-Take a field trip with your child to a public place like a mall, a box store, a large shopping plaza and spy on shoppers and workers in the stores​. Have your child spy to notice social verbal and nonverbal cues and to collect information.​  Notice and draw a map of all the entrances, exits, and bathrooms. How many are there? Do employees wear uniforms? What do the uniforms tell you about who is doing what job? Based on what you observe who is in charge in this store? Who is in charge but does not wear a manager tag? Who is the grumpy employee? What verbal and nonverbal cues tell you how someone feels? Who is in a hurry? What social cues tell you they are in a hurry?
  4. Read the Mood at a Party or On The Playground-At an event with friends and family or while you are playing on the playground- prompt your child to pick out two people in her family to observe and then to report back what their facial expressions, body language and tone of voice are when they are angry, frustrated, nervous or frightened. Continue to spy on people’s mood throughout the event and ask your child how he should adapt his behavior based on the other person’s mood.
  5. Create an Inventory of People at the Party-Learning who someone is and predicting what they will do comes from stepping into their shoes and noticing a million little details about that person. Help your child learn to predict what motivates people, how they will react to information by playing a game with your child at a party. Before the party, prompt your child to privately collect information during the party to create an inventory of 2 specific people in your life by spying on them and gathering information to answer the questions about their interests, personality, and preferences.
  6. Teach Your Child to Engage in a “Polite Pretend”-The ability to fake interest or happiness and to be polite even when your child is hungry, tired or bored is what I call a polite pretend. Begin by asking him some open-ended questions, what do you think your friend felt about your behavior? How do other people feel about how you treated them? What behavior does the situation call for? This will help your child think about his actions and why performing a polite pretend may be necessary rather than hurting other people’s feelings.
  7. Practice Building Small Talk-Taking a conversation from saying hello to a full-fledged conversation is hard for some children and teens but it is a life skill. Before a social event teach your child these steps so she can consider how to start and move a conversation forward. First consider how the person and situation is similar or different from someone else she knows; consider what shared experiences you have had with the person. Then listen for clues about the person you are talking to or consult your social database for information about them you can use in conversation. Give your child some conversation starters such as, what have you been up to? What has this season been like? Are you taking a trip or vacation this season? Ask your child to walk around with you and start to make conversation with adults or other kids.
  8. Reading the Face in the Crowd-Most communication is through body language and facial expressions. At your next social event, play a game with your child. Ask him to read the faces of people at the party from afar, remind him to spy covertly not glaring or staring. Ask him to share with you discreetly what 5 people’s facial expressions alone, without words tell him about how the person is feeling.
  9. Teach Your Child to Learn to Approach a Group-Prior to a bbq or party, role play approaching a group with your immediate family so your child can get a sense of how to physically maneuver and so she can practice the steps to join a group. The steps are pause and scan the group, think about a similar situation from the past, figure out the group’s unspoken rules, think about who you know, consider what the people in the group are interested in, notice the social cues, body language, facial expressions of the people in the group, make eye contact with the group and initiate a friendly gesture like a smile and then approach the group.
  10. Gamify Reading the Context of a Situation-Context is the situation, the environment, the mood, the circumstances, and what has been going on around you. Some children struggle to pick up on the context and then to adapt their behavior to that context. At a social event ask your child to adapt his behavior to match the audience he is speaking to. Share some examples in advance, did they just get bad news? Are they hurried and busy? Are they sharing good news? Ask your child to demonstrate adapting to the context and then share it with you.

 

 

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