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:
- “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?”
- “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.
- “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.”
- “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?”
- “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?
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.”
- “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?”
- “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?
- “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.
- “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?”
- “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.
- “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.
- “ 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.