In a consultation I did with a client in one of my private coaching programs yesterday, we discussed some key elements in helping her child initiate interaction We discussed how to help her child move from being a social responder (meaning, being compliant when given directions or requests) to being a social initiator (spontaneously initiating meaningful connection).
Why is this so important?
Because in the long term, your child needs to build the muscle of INITIATING interaction to be successful with his peers on the playground or in the classroom. Children his own age are not going to work so hard to get your child to engage or try every trick they know to distract your child from his or her exclusive/repetitious behavior. Unless your child has the desire and ability to move towards another child- he will likely get left on the side lines.
So how exactly do you inspire your child to build this initiating muscle?
Here are 4 steps to get started:
1. Find a distraction free room in your home to play with your child (this could be your child’s bedroom,work/playroom). Make sure that it has a closed door and that the floor is clear of toys or distracting objects. This will help your child focus on YOU more easily.
2. Follow your child’s lead. Let your child be the leader and do what he is doing. If he is rolling cars- roll cars. If she is singing to herself and hopping across the room- sing and hop along too. If your child is not engaging with you and is deeply involved in his/her own exclusiveness or repetitious play- it is because he needs his repetitious play to create calm, order and predictability to an often overwhelmed sensory system. Do not try to redirect or distract your child- simply get into it!
3. Observe for signs of initiating. Watch your child for the smallest signs of initiating interaction, such as looking at you, what you are doing, communicating or through physical contact. This is your child’s ‘initiation’. By not constantly trying to redirect or distract your child, you are creating the opportunity for your child to come to YOU- this is exactly the goal you are going for.
4.Once you see an ‘initiator’- the ball is in your court and you can initiate a game you know your child is likely motivated for- such as bubbles, songs, books or piggy back rides.
Do the above for 20 minutes 3-4 times a week and see how your child responds!
The point is this: Often times, with the best of intentions, parents or therapists take the leader position- constantly directing a child on what to do. Although this can help to develop a compliant child, it does nothing for helping a child develop the essential skill of initiating interaction. Without this- his peers will whiz by and he will not have the skill necessary to jump on the ‘social train’.
Important note: By letting your child lead you will likely get fewer interactions in the beginning because your child is not being constantly drawn out by you- but keep your eye on the prize.
The goal is not trying to squeeze out as many interactions as possible, but to create opportunities so that your child will INITIATE these interactions with you- not only developing the essential skill of initiation, but often creating a much deeper quality of interaction itself because your child is choosing it when he is ready.
Besides, imagine the respect and acceptance your child can experience when you let him take the lead?