Want Less Stress with Your Socially Challenged Teen? Learn To See the Little Wins

Help your Socially Challenged Teen

As parents of a socially challenged teen, we often look for big change and big wins. We want to hear that our teenager is “getting it” and that they are really willing to change, however, to help your socially challenged teen, recognize and appreciate that change happens with little wins, little shifts and small successes. The road to change is not paved with momentous events as in a hallmark movie and waiting for these events will only result in disappointment.  For example, if your teen is working on flexibility, they might not display frequent, regular flexibility.  Instead, they might adopt small wins around flexibility, such as changing where they sit. If they do it 3 times – it’s a small win!

For the Teen Who has Social Skills Challenges, Encouragement is the Key

Socially Challenged TeenHelp your socially challenged teen by noting and celebrating milestones or small wins. For example, when your teen overcomes their fear and invites a friend over, you can say, “You put yourself on the field, you caught the ball, you tried harder at something that’s hard for you. Those are three things to celebrate.”

To help you empathize with your teen, recall something that was hard for you. How hard was it to make progress and earn small wins? How about when only one wall was painted and there were three more to finish. Or when you started running and a half mile was so painful but eventually you worked up to a mile, then two then three?

Being a teenager is so hard, and part of that journey is learning how to communicate, self-advocate, and get along with people. This is no simple task.  The more we see the little wins, the more likely we will hit the big ones.

5 Social Behaviors That Indicate Small Wins:

  1. Nodding or a Shrugging

When your teen hesitates to respond or if you are broaching a tough topic, they may simply shrug or nod. Recognize that a shrug is actually an answer and that they are communicating with you. Being tongue tied or not being able to express thoughts via words can make parents think our teen does not hear us or is ignoring us. Don’t forget to look for the small wins and be sure to keep communication open – the better we partner, the more our child will want to communicate with us.

Looking for help on how to broach tough topics? Check out my video, Starting the Coaching Conversation

  1. Recognizing Social Cues

As your child’s coach, your goal is to help your child understand the unspoken rules of social behavior, learn how to watch for cues from other people, and work on adjusting their behavior. When you ask and listen to your teen, you learn about their experiences. Cheer the small successes as the stepping stones to bigger ones. Work with your child to develop the game plan – the playbook – and the overarching goal: for your child to make friends more easily and “go along and get along” with others.

  1. Self-Discovery

An aha is simply a moment of self-discovery. We’ve all had epiphanies in our lives. No one can have an aha for someone else; it’s an inside job. Recognize that every aha is progress – a small win. Their aha will look different than your aha, and that is OK. Don’t correct or lecture them on how they should be because this will shut down the conversation, their process of reflection, and the opening for the next aha.

Even the smallest aha is a bold expression of your teen’s  executive function bringing a picture into focus. Executive function connects the dots, and every aha is a dot in the picture. Whether your child is five years old or fifteen, she’s going to have these realizations when she’s ready, developmentally and emotionally. Coaching isn’t about ordering up the aha or telling your child what it should be. Coaching creates the space and time for her to discover this insight herself, which is the most powerful source of learning a child can have.

  1. Trying

Very few people if any move from trying to full on change. There are stages of change and the first starts with the awareness of one’s role and struggles in the social world. This awareness and noticing her own behavior. So if your child begins to express greater self awareness and seems willing to change- that is a win !!

  1. Practice

When we talk about the social behaviors that everyone needs to have, we’re referring to more than isolated performances of a skill. We’re talking about habits of “being”. In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, author Charles Duhigg suggests that a habit takes 18 to 254 days or an average of 66 days to develop.

Science tells us that the longer we hold on to perceptions and habits of thought, the more deeply imbedded they become. The brain’s circuitry— the networks of neurons and the paths they create—becomes stronger with use and weaker with less use. The brain actively prunes away the lesser used connections in favor of the more heavily used ones. In this way, your child’s story about his behavior becomes the self-talk, the inner voice that encourages or discourages him. Studies also show that in the brain, negative self- perception intensifies our reaction to negative thoughts and experiences and weakens the impact of positive ones. That’s how self-talk becomes a self- fulfilling prophecy: I just don’t fit in. I’m too stupid. I don’t . . . I’m not . . . I’ ll never. It becomes harder and harder to dig out of that self-talk rut and the behaviors that only dig the rut deeper.

For that reason, the sooner we address these stories that hold children back, the less entrenched those narratives are and the sooner we can help our kids change the story and the self-talk. Step-by-step, with incremental successes—small wins—your child builds the skills and strengthens the brain’s circuitry for positive social behavior.

Work with your teen to practice making chit chat, reaching out to others, making eye contact, holding back in a group chat or trying new things, takes time to become a habit. Partner with your teen to help him develop socially. Don’t pressure or rush the learning process. Most of all, show confidence in your child’s capacity to learn and grow.

Deeper Dive

Video: Starting the Coaching Conversation

Are you looking for help on how to broach tough topics? This video is a real-world conversation so parents can hear what a coaching conversation sounds like and how the conversation brings to light the child’s realizations and also helps the parent understand their perspective and the stories that get in the way of the child moving forward. As featured in Why Will No One Play With Me? these stories are essential for your child to address in order to understand the social world and move forward.

DO This At Home!

For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me? and How to SEL

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