Socializing well may come naturally to some, but it sure doesn’t come easily to others. Your child or teen might be the “Socially Awkward Kid”: the one who avoids direct eye contact, hesitates to initiate a conversation, or desperately relies on one friend.
Introverted, Socially Awkward or Socially Anxious?
Being introverted is not the same as being socially awkward. Introverts may relish their alone time and may be seen as alert and observant. They do not typically get shamed or bullied by others.
Social awkwardness is similar to social anxiety in that they both induce anxiousness or stress in social situations.
A socially awkward kid may get stigmatized, bullied and ridiculed for it. They may feel shame and isolated. The good news is that social skills, just like any other life skill, can be practiced and improved at any age. The less good-news is that if awkwardness is not successfully addressed, it can solidify and continue.
The Paradox of the Socially Awkward Kid
Socially awkward kids tend to be invited less so their self-confidence may start to spiral down too. The longer this struggle goes on research tells us – the harder it is for children to move past this struggle. [Read More, Do I need to Help My Kid Make Friends?]
10 Tips to Help the Socially Awkward Kid Socialize
- Early intervention – Keep an eye out for how your child interacts with others in a variety of settings. You may not notice anything at home but perhaps on the playground or with neighbors, you may be able to pinpoint areas of potential concern. If you notice a problem, the best thing you can do is talk to your child and try to understand their perspective. Be curious, use open-ended questions and work collaboratively on solutions.
- Build basic skills for getting along – Include your kid in social occasions, holidays, events and dinners. Have them Social Spy to guess what other people are feeling.
[More information, advice and resources can be found in our NEW Rusty Social Skills Bundle ]
- Collaborate – It isn’t their fault that social situations end up painful. Don’t nag, rather, work collaboratively to build skills. Practice taking little steps and encourage them every step of the way to build up their self-confidence. Consider breaking down the steps to making a friend to simplify the process of connecting with another person. This can help demystify the process and make it less intimidating and less complicated.
- Practice making chit chat – Knowing that you can bridge from one topic to another and make conversation is not just an art it’s a necessity. Chit chat and conversation help us connect with people and make friends and find out about people so we can nurture that friendship. Some awkward kids struggle making conversation. Have family dinners, ask your child to add to a conversation with close family friends, shepherd him around at a family party and coach him to make conversation. Link to Making conversation product
[More information, advice and resources can be found in our NEW Moving from Hi to Full Conversation – eBook]
- Teach kids to look at how they want to be treated – Explain what qualities to look for in a friendship. This will help them be discerning and not just settle for anyone who gives them the slightest attention. Or banish those who might make a single mistake. Ask your child what they want out of their friendships? How do they want to be treated? What makes a friendship enjoyable?
- Talk openly – When the opportunity arises, ask about their friends and their experience in school. Listen and frankly discuss what they like.
- Personal hygiene – This is so important because kids are big on first impressions. Keeping all parts of the external body clean and healthy has positive effects on a person’s social life and their physical and mental health. Not only does washing our hands protect against gastro or infectious diseases such as COVID-19, colds, and flu, but it will also help prevent spreading diseases to other people. Although you may feel your older kid shouldn’t need regular reminders, many do – especially kids with executive function challenges. Brushing teeth, showering, washing clothes, etc. are important to ensure your child is not needlessly targeted.
- Model joining a group and engaging with people – Demonstrate how to reach out to other people and nurture relationships. Talk about how to approach a group of people. Role play and rehearse with family members or at a party with close friends where your child can practice walking up to someone, saying hello and physically joining a circle of people and a conversation.
[More information, advice and resources can be found in our NEW Joining a Group Video]
- Be part of the community – Join activities and talk openly about why and the process. Then use collaborative conversations to help your child pick places to join where she can meet people, cultivate relationships, and practice key skills. Every day presents opportunities to reach out to others and engage. Practice with people they are comfortable with first. Encourage extracurricular activities, school groups and clubs as it will help them grow in confidence. If they are old enough, suggest they look for a job. The interview will help them in many ways with their confidence and social skills building.
- Pay attention – You are your child’s best advocate but sometimes your child or teen may need to speak to a professional. Working on specific concerns and how to overcome their social anxiety and awkwardness may be a critical element to stepping into a more social future.
Why Can’t My Kid Socialize Well with Others?
There may be a variety of reasons why kids and adults struggle socially. Perhaps they have learning differences. I talk more about social skills for people with ADHD, autism and LD here. The reasons are varied, but most importantly, is meeting your child where they are so you can tailor support around their needs.
It takes time for a kid who is struggling socially to step out of their comfort zone, but it can be done – slowly and steadily. Remember, they need to go at their own pace, so they don’t get overwhelmed. Be patient.
Social Skills Deeper Dive:
My Child is Lonely What Should I do?