Along with unique ways of learning, unique learners often have unexpected ways of behaving. These unexpected behaviors can be difficult to navigate. As parents, our knee-jerk reaction is to stop the behavior so that our children aren’t looked down on, and even so we aren’t viewed poorly.

Unique learners can be disconnected from what socially acceptable behavior is as well as how to behave accordingly. Their socially awkward behavior stems from the same place their learning differences do.

It can be very challenging for parents when their child acts in ways that are socially unacceptable. The stares from other adults seem to convey that you are a bad parent, or worse, they think your child acts oddly.

Even your child’s peers sometimes shun or tease your child because they are different or acting unexpectedly.

This is a difficult issue because we do care what others think about our child. But more than that, parents want to protect their child from ever being hurt.

The best way to help your socially awkward child is to prepare them. Discuss various social settings and practice how to act in those settings beforehand.

Certain social environments are often difficult arenas and provide an opportunity to try out new behaviors for both you and your child. For example, grocery shopping can be a stressful experience for parents and children.

If you must take your child grocery shopping on a frequent basis, it may be necessary to teach grocery shopping behaviors. Preferably, choose a time when you do not actually need to purchase many groceries. This allows you to not only focus on teaching your child a new behavior but also makes it easier if you need to leave the store without finishing your shopping. With your child and yourself shopping at your usual store, simulate the entire activity within a shorter and manageable timeframe.

Identify phrases and language that have meaning to your child and reserve these phrases for your grocery shopping activities only. For example, “Busy aisle!” may be the code language between you and your child when a grocery aisle is very crowded. Because you and your child have practiced during low-stress times, your child knows that “busy aisle” behavior means to keep their hands within the cart and refrain from loud or excessive talking.

Overuse of the declaration, “busy aisle” throughout the entire store and every time you shop may result in noncompliant behaviors. Busy aisle behaviors must be complemented with times allowed for non-busy aisle behaviors. Perhaps you can designate a location in the store or a verbal phrase, such as “non-busy aisle time” where you can stop pushing the cart and attend to the child’s conversation, concerns, or needs. A balance between “busy aisle” and “non-busy aisle” behaviors is more understandable to your child.

This concept can be expanded to other circumstances. Perhaps, the next time you travel together and go to the airport you can use similar language and explain to your child that, “This is like when we grocery shop in a busy aisle, you need to be quiet so that you can hear my instructions.”

In this way, you can build your child’s understanding of what to expect in certain situations and what behavior would be required. In addition to talking about behavior, you can help your child by explaining what will be happening before they are thrown into the middle of it.

If you have to take your child to the doctor, you can stop just outside the door to explain things to your child. You might say, “This is a quiet room where we must sit still and be quiet. Remember how we had to act during story time at the library? This is like that place because we can’t run around or be noisy. There will be other people in this room too, and they will also be waiting to see the doctor. They don’t feel good either, so we want to make sure we are using our quiet behavior.”

In this way, you have prepared your child for what they will see in the waiting room and how they will need to behave. You can do this before birthday parties, excursions to the park or a get together with extended family.

Some of the awkwardness that unique learners can display may be because they are keyed up and nervous to begin with. They then act in what seems like inappropriate behavior because they are trying to deal with anxiety.

Begin working on these skills with your child in small, manageable environments. As they learn how to act in different social situations, you can use that new data to help them make connections between experiences. These connections help them learn socially acceptable ways of behaving during different experiences. Rich and complex connections also make life interesting and fun, which will help your child fully enjoy their life.

Check out these Strategies to Try to help your socially awkward child.

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Suzanne Cresswell Administrator
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