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'Tis the Season to Be Social: Tips for Children with Social Struggles

As a parent of a socially awkward child, you may dread the many parties and celebrations that go along with the holiday season, particularly if your youngster has high-functioning autism, Asperger's, ADHD, learning disorders, behavioral issues or is a student who struggles and requires help. These gatherings can be emotionally stressful for your child -- and for you as well -- because you can't bear seeing him or her feeling isolated, fearful or uncomfortable. Strategies to help your child feel more socially adept can help make the gatherings more enjoyable, rather than being a dismal occasion where you simply hope for the best.

Helping Your Child Be More Social

Children with behavioral or social issues tend to feel most comfortable with familiar people and places. When taken out of their comfort zones, they tend to withdraw. Explain to your youngster that every person's favorite subject is themselves and that this is the secret to being a great conversationalist. During a board game, the child can begin a conversation with someone by asking, "Do you ever play this game at home?" The other kid might reply, "No, but we always play dominoes, and my dog always tries to get in the middle of the game." Role play with your youngster to help him spot conversational openers like the mention of a dog. Instruct him to say, "That's cool, I've always wanted a dog (or cat, or pet). What's your pet's name?" Start these role-playing games a couple of weeks before the first event so that your child will become more adept at spotting conversational cues.

The Importance of Body Language

Help your child feel more capable of making new friends by teaching him about body language. Ask your child how he would feel if he was talking to another person and the kid just stood there with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face like he couldn't wait to leave. Your child would probably feel like the person didn't want to talk with him or become his friend. Tell your child that in reality, that kid may simply be shy or not feel well, but his body language says something totally different. Explain how a smile and a relaxed posture can make all the difference in how approachable he seems to others.
Teach your child about missed opportunities. Explain that the party will only last a few hours and it is a chance to have fun and make new friends. Tell him that just a tiny effort of appearing friendly and interested in what is going on can transform what could have been an uncomfortable evening into a fun-filled and memorable night!

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