Friday, April 26, 2013

When being social is a learned skill

Did you feel socially awkward as a kid?

I did. I felt different. And sometimes I felt lonely.

You know what's crazy? As I talk to fellow adults now, I realize that many (maybe even most?) of us felt socially awkward as we grew up. And if lots and lots of us felt that way, I guess we really weren't as "different" as we thought we were.

But the fact remains, it's hard when you don't feel like you fit in. I have so badly wanted to protect my kids from that feeling. I want them to naturally make friends. I want them to be well-liked.

I don't want my kid to be too hyper, or too awkward, or too intense, so that another child rolls their eyes and pulls away. It hurts me when I see one of my little ones, flesh of my flesh, struggling to fit in.

But there are some truths I'm learning, and I need to remind myself of them. Frequently. Here they are:
  • It's okay to be different. It's okay to not be liked by everyone. I'm just now learning this as an adult, and I'd love for my kids to learn it earlier.
  • If my kids are finding other children they do relate to, I probably shouldn't be so concerned. They don't have to be the most popular kids on the block as long as they have some good friends they can count on.
  • Many of us have to learn how to be social. It doesn't always come naturally. It certainly didn't for me--but as I grew, I learned it! Sometimes I still feel socially insecure. Most of us do. But in general, as an adult, I feel good about who I am, and about my ability to relate to others. If I can learn it, my kids can too. It's okay for them to stumble along the way--it's called trial and error!
My kids are learning to swim. It's proving to be a long, challenging process for Zoodle. And that's okay.

Chickie has to work hard to understand math concepts. Sometimes it's really hard for her, but I know that it's okay.

See, my kids have plenty of talents; they just don't have every talent.

When I look at a child who is a natural swimmer, I don't expect Zoodle to be like that. And when I see kids who are math whizzes, I don't expect Chickie to learn that quickly.

So when I see kids who are naturally social butterflies, why should I expect my kids to "measure up"?

Socializing is a learned skill, just like swimming or math! And some kids get it more easily than others! But that doesn't mean there's something wrong with one of my kids if he or she has to work harder at it.

So I want to accept my kids just as they are. If I see some social awkwardness here or there, I don't want to panic. I want my kids to feel totally accepted by me (even if they are acting "different") so they can be confident enough to just be themselves around their peers.

This one is hard for me, but, like my kids...I'm learning.


Skerrib said...

So, so true. Thanks for this!

Call Me Cate said...

I think your second point is SO important. To me, it's more important to have a few quality friends you really get you than to have a large quantity of friends. Of course, I'm still kind of socially awkward at 35. But I've made great progress even in the last few years. It's definitely a learning process and if they learn it's OK to be themselves early on, it makes a big difference along the way.

And being accepted and loved by your parents trumps all of that.

Tia said...

I agree. I was always very social but I always wanted EVERYONE to like me. I am still that way. I wish I wasn't. Man alive, it guts me to the core when some kid is mean to Ellie. I have had to learn with her that it is ok to not be liked by everyone. What I tell her is to be nice to everyone but be nicest to those who are nice to her! She is fiercely protective of her friends. I love that about her.

Teresa said...

Two of my 3 children are bi-polar. One was very socially awkward as a child which could have been a clue for us had we known his father was bi-polar back then. My bi-polar daughter has always been a social butterfly - still is - but is a bit of a drama queen due to her condition. My middle son who is not bi-polar is very shy but has the tools to come out of his shell and loves acting. I'm so glad that I focused on their social skills when they were little because life is so much easier for them now.

Mike said...

Good tips, definitely! People are always so surprised when I tell them I was a painfully awkward, shy, quiet kid. Especially since I tend to be the polar opposite in public now. My brother's naturally outgoing, but I had to work at it. To be honest though, it is a lot more fun learning to enjoy socializing and having a conversation than learning to do math haha. But I still have those moments when I have to call someone that I have a panic attack, though I'm glad that social skills can be acquired too. And shed as quickly behind closed doors. :)