Some kids seem to make friends with ease. They always seem to have someone to play with, and they have no trouble navigating the social world of their classroom or neighborhood. Other kids need more support and may need parents to play a more active role in their effort to make friends. All of the parents I have spoken to feel strongly about how important it is for their child with hearing loss to have good friends. But some are not sure how to give their kids that extra boost that they might need. Here are some ideas:
- Create opportunities to meet kids and make friends. If your neighborhood is a place where kids go out and play in the park – then go out there. You can bring enough plastic buckets and shovels for a few children to play in the sand or a big bag of munchies for a bunch of kids to munch together and encourage social interaction and friendly gestures to break the ice. If your neighborhood is not an out at the playground kind of place, consider signing your child up for after-school activities that interest your child and would encourage social interaction, like sports teams, drama clubs, or art activities.
- Invite one child over to your house. Sometimes we expect school to provide all of the social needs for our child. It might be harder to manage the social experience when there are so many children and often, so much noise. Your child might enjoy playing with one other child in a quiet environment. Ask your child who they would like to play with. Keep the length of time reasonable, or even short. End on a high note and then do it again.
- Scaffold the experience as much as your child needs. If your child needs support in making the social interaction work, you can prepare an arts and crafts project with materials spread out for the pair of children. Also baking cookies enables the kids to do something pleasant together, but they take the pressure off the children, since the activity is all prepared for them. You can encourage the conversation while doing the crafts or cookies and you can leave the kids to play on their own if they seem to not need you.
- Don’t get discouraged – it can take time. Some kids may need a lot of support and time to learn the “ropes.” You need to think of your child’s first IEP – it did not say “speaks in paragraphs and writes complex essays.” Kids may need to start with small social steps – learning to say hi, to get involved in the play, to ask a friend to come over to play. Don’t worry if the steps seem small. Encourage each small step and feel positive that your child is moving in the right direction.
- Assume nothing. Some kids need explicit teaching of things that other kids pick up without any notice. You may want to teach your child to say: “My name is Sean, what is your name?” and then try it out. You can model this too. You may need to work with your child on understanding non-verbal cues or body language. Speak to your child’s speech therapist about this – since they likely have experience with teaching social skills to children with hearing loss and without.
- Look for a social skills group in your community. Some kids really benefit from a social skills group run by a social worker or psychologist. It usually has 4-8 kids in a similar age range and offers participants the opportunity to learn how to interact with other kids and actually practice the skills that they need. This environment should be calm and controlled and therefore really conducive to learning.
- Be positive. Kids can be very sensitive to parents’ feedback. If you express disappointment about your child’s difficulties in social interactions, it can have the opposite effect of what you are trying to accomplish. Ask your child for his or her perspective “how did you think it went?” Hear from your child what kind of experience it was for him or her. You can ask “how could it be better for you next time?” but you might just want to offer a hug and move on.
- Respect your child’s desire to play alone sometimes. Even if we want our children to have good friendships, its normal to want some time to play alone. Especially after an hectic day at school with many other children, your child might prefer some time to read, play alone or think their thoughts, that’s OK too. Wait until the weekend or other more quiet times to encourage playing with other kids.