Sheri Glucoft-Wong, LSW MCSW – a Marriage and Family Therapist and renowned educational expert – recently visited INTL* as part if our INTL ParentEd series to share her insights about how parents can best support their children as they make their way through the complex social world of childhood.
Here are some key strategies and attitudes, gleaned from Ms. Glucoft-Wong's wonderful presentation, that parents can use to help their children develop healthy, rewarding relationships with peers and siblings, and become confident, caring, compassionate, and courageous adults.
1. Communication is key.
You can only support and guide your child if they communicate freely and openly with you. To encourage your child to open up, you might try simply responding with "oh" when they tell you about an issue they are having, instead of immediately offering directions and advice. This will acknowledge what they have said but also prompt them to elaborate, helping you more fully understand their feelings and experiences.
2. Demonstrate confidence in your child's social skills.
If your child comes to you with a problem they had at school, your reaction may be to immediately go speak with his/her teacher. You may feel you are supporting and protecting them by doing this, but you are actually giving them a sign that you don't have confidence in their ability to solve problems in their own social world. It is often better to encourage your child to try to solve the problem for him/herself.
3. There are no victims or villains in children's interactions.
If your child has a conflict with peers, avoid painting one party as the "victim," and one as the "villain." This is an easy narrative to fall into, but it may cause children to begin to identify as either a "victim" or a "villain," neither of which is helpful for social development. For example, if your child is excluded from a game, focus more on your child's own experience and what they can do better next time, instead of blaming and vilifying their peers.
4. Allow your kids to exercise their "disappointment muscle."
Many parents today make the mistake of trying to protect their children from any disappointment. However, neuroscience tells us that short-term social stress actually helps young brains develop. Over-coddling can interfere with their social development, so don't be afraid to tell your child they can't attend that sleep-over.
5. There is both good and bad entitlement.
Children need to be taught that they are both "special and unique" but also "just like everyone else," depending on the situation. They should understand that they deserve fair treatment (everyone gets a turn, everyone gets a pencil), but that they don't deserve special treatment at the expense of others (I always get to go first, I get to grab your pencil). Regard for both yourself and others is the basis of healthy self-esteem.
6. Don't force your child to say "I'm sorry."
Everyone gets grumpy and makes mistakes, and your child is just like everyone else. Forcing your child to grudgingly mutter the words "I'm sorry" can be unproductive and make them feel shamed. It is much more meaningful that they learn how their actions affect others and what they can do to make things right. For example, if they knock down a sibling, they should acknowledge what happened and tell them "I understand you feel upset, I need to be more careful next time – can I help you up?"
7. Help your child look for the good in every situation.
There is always something positive to learn from even the most challenging social situations. Humans are hard-wired for goodness, and you can encourage your child to see the good in others and develop a positive and forgiving attitude towards their peers.
*In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INTL) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.