Standing at the kitchen window, Rita watched her son Abhiram (12) walking towards the house. His dishevelled appearance, stooping shoulders and look of utter dejection broke her heart. Abhi, once enjoyed going to school but now each day was an ordeal. He had no friends. He was lonely. She just did not know how to help him.
Abhi has a penchant for expressing things at the wrong time. When other kids are serious, he cracks a joke and unmindful of their reactions, just goes on. In his excitement, he frowns and keeps hitting the kid standing next to him. He has no clue that no one enjoys his jokes. When he gets going, he never knows when or how to stop. He never bothers to find out what others think of him. Also, when he says or does something that others find strange or ‘weird’, he has no insight into what they are thinking. Most of the time he is out of step with the others and can never match his mood with theirs.
This is not the story of Abhi alone but of countless children who are unintentionally moving towards social exclusion through their inappropriate social behaviour. They lack social skills so essential for successful interpersonal interaction. These young souls have trouble regulating their tone of voice, choice of words while conveying their feelings and, as a result, seem to be angry when they’re actually not. They do not have the vaguest idea of what they are doing to put off others. Their lives are impacted more by social pressure than academic pressure. Social life at school causes them anguish. The truth is that rejection by peers is one of childhood’s saddest stories.
Peer rejection and abuse take a heavy toll. The numerous problems with friends, peer group and adversaries pre-occupy all kids throughout their years in school. Children who are often rebuked become depressed and angry. It is not unusual for a victim, to arrive at home and viciously bully his younger sibling or act in an oppositional and aggressive manner towards his parents, following a day full of ridicule and social setbacks. The long- term effects of the lack of social skills are tremendous. A child’s feelings about himself and his self-esteem are affected by his perceptions of how others react to him. If others react negatively and the child has difficulty interacting with peers, he could suffer from a feeling of rejection which could manifest itself in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, anxiety and depression. He expresses feelings of not wanting to go to school. Research has shown that the results of rejection often include significant early social difficulties and risk of social and psychological maladjustment at a later stage, including substance abuse and depressive disorders.
Many studies have demonstrated that children with learning difficulties also tend to experience difficulty in the social domain which is very important in order to achieve success in life. Due to developmental delays and difficulty with impulse control, these children lack the ability to correctly perceive, interpret and process information from the world around them. They have difficulty in recognising emotions in themselves and others. This, in turn, leads to reduced social adaptation in school, lower interpersonal understanding, less acceptance and more rejection from peers.
In the light of this information, the classroom environment provides an opportune setting for educators to teach the basic social skills necessary for social competency. Children can directly be taught the mechanics of learning how to join a group and how to establish and maintain friendships through classroom social interaction. Teachers can use positive behaviour management strategies to help a child regulate his behaviour.
Observation is crucial
When social growth fails to occur, your child’s life can be a study in daily humiliation, rejection and isolation – nothing hurts more than all those cruel comments that are hurled at your child. Parents need to be alerted towards this common form of social dysfunction which can start to manifest itself as early as ages five or six. You, as a parent, are in a position to observe both how well he communicates with other people and how effectively he acts with them. Keep an eye on your five- to eight-year-old while he is interacting with peers and note whether he can communicate with social appropriateness. Does he have the ability to start a new relationship? Can he resolve inefficient social conflicts without resorting to aggression? Help him with socially acceptable ways of saying things. Sensitise your child to the separate approaches required when communicating with his parents, siblings, friends and teachers.
Identifying your child’s social weaknesses and making him aware of socially accepted behaviour patterns like picking the right topic to talk about, taking turns, about sharing and being able to gauge other’s moods, etc. will go a long way towards making friendships.
A primary need of human beings is to be liked and accepted by others. Friendships play an important role; they help children develop emotionally and socially and also safeguard against loneliness and self-doubt. Help your child make friends! Having that ‘best friend’ is a great feeling for any child.
The writer is a Remedial Educator