A few years ago, my son seemed to always make friends with kids who were either younger than he was, or challenged in some way. These two kinds of children were more forgiving of his differences, so it’s not surprising.
Of course, it’s still happening, even now. It’s an ongoing acceptance issue.
But the kids who were also challenged posed both a relief and a problem. Sure, we were killing two birds with one stone, in that they each had someone to play with. And, at times, this really was a very good thing. If the teacher was on the ball. If they were monitored and rewarded for good behavior.
But often they clashed. Things escalated quickly, and then there would be two unhappy kids who’d behaved inappropriately, whether verbally or sometimes, sadly, with hitting or even punching.
At this point, it would be easy to blame the other parent. But we’ve all been on that side of the fence, haven’t we? So I’m not jumping to conclusions about parenting.
A guidance counselor finally explained this phenomenon to me. She said that with most kids a social mechanism kicks in that causes them to just back away or stop at a certain point. Our kids, being socially challenged, just don’t have that. They don’t recognize the crucial moment, and so they keep going at each other.
In other words, when two friends have a disagreement or become irritated with one another, the normal thing would be to recognize that this was happening, and then give each other some space.
But neither one was backing down. Neither one knew how, much less recognized when to back down.
If the conflict occurs at school, we’re dependent on teachers and other caregivers. We can describe our children’s social challenges and ask for them to keep an eye open. We can ask for intervention and then guidance to correct behavior.
But it’s not always going to happen.
We can, however, take things into our own hands. We can work with our children. Think ‘practice makes perfect.’
Often, our family resorts to roleplay. We start by looking for certain signs, like a raised voice, or unhappiness. Conflict itself is a good thing to work on and recognize. And then we walk our son through what to say and do, or when it’s best to just leave and get a teacher.
This is not an easy fix. It’s about practice, practice, and more practice. It’s about learning to recognize how others are feeling, and what to do when things hit critical mass.
And roleplay isn’t the only option out there. Watching tv with the sound off, to gauge emotion and guess what will happen next also helps. Observing others at a playground can teach valuable lessons. Learning to recognize one’s own feelings – also an ongoing project – may be the most valuable key of all.
It isn’t easy. But then, nothing worthwhile ever is.