More on Social Skills

Last night, on the way back from a Mother’s Day celebration at my brother’s house, we had to have a serious talk with Ian about the “Five Deadly Words” — ugly, stupid/dumb, old, smelly, and fat. He can’t address people (or their dogs) with those words. He wanted to know if they were curse words. We told him that these words were as hurtful as curses, and he should never use them.

Social rules have to be concretely explained to Ian. One we establish a rule, then he’s good to go, but he needs them to survive social situations. He doesn’t naturally know that you can’t say “Good-bye Old Woman” to someone when he doesn’t know her name. We explained to him that people love their dogs as much as their children, so those words apply to people’s pets as well.

Over the years, we’ve had to set this rule plus dozens more to help Ian navigate the outside world. I’m writing up these rules this week.

Have you had to directly instruct your children or your family members about social or conversational skills? Tell me about it.

 

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40 thoughts on “More on Social Skills

  1. I think your book will be a hit, I hope someone picks it up!!

    I think it’s hard to teach neurotypical kids about these things too… this whole having to “lie” in social contexts not to offend people. My youngest son has a bit of a temper and sometimes he’s pretty clueless in the way he talks to me. It sounds horribly disrespectful if other people hear it (and sometimes even to me), but he doesn’t really have the social skills sometimes to not talk to me that way… and he’s nearly 14. I guess it’s just his personality and — maybe — totally my fault too. Sigh…

    1. “My youngest son has a bit of a temper and sometimes he’s pretty clueless in the way he talks to me. It sounds horribly disrespectful if other people hear it (and sometimes even to me), but he doesn’t really have the social skills sometimes to not talk to me that way… and he’s nearly 14. I guess it’s just his personality and — maybe — totally my fault too.”

      Normal teen thing.

      1. Yeah, I guess, AmyP… but it’s also his personality and the way I try not to overeact. Other kids whose parents are probably more strict, I don’t know, act very shocked at his behavior (I was in a car with four to five kids at a time for many many hours last weekend and I guess it’s kind of natural that once in a while my son would get upset and say something not so respectful…). His brother (who is 16 now) didn’t ever do or does that — they have completely different personalities.

      2. Yup on the personality. There’s a caveat to any parenting advice/anecdote —-> each child is different. Easy to be a Judgy McJudgerson when you have an easier row to hoe due to personality/circumstances/etc. It’s the parent-of-a-teen version of feeling chuffed when your newborn sleeps through the night or is an early walker (as if much if any of that is due to stellar new parenting skills).

  2. E once told my mom she had “an old face.” (LOL, don’t smoke, people! My mom was only 60 then.)

    But other than that, we’re just excited when E talks to anyone. He’s the medium-height skinny silent type. (Or so we think; he just never speaks much around us.)

    (Still avoiding the office. Last day before finals, and I get a little sick of answering questions from students about how they can improve their grades. Time machine is the only real answer.)

    1. “But other than that, we’re just excited when E talks to anyone. He’s the medium-height skinny silent type.”

      C has two modes when dealing with people she doesn’t know well:

      a) silent

      and

      b) page long narratives.

      Since she is so reluctant to talk to new adults, I’m kind of reluctant to shut the tap off once she starts talking. But what we need to work on is figuring out what information is relevant to the flow of conversation, saying that, and not giving all information that is at all connected. But that’s HARD.

      Our 5-year-old, on the other hand, wants to talk to everybody and has a tendency to start in media res. She needs to give more context. Early days, though.

    2. I know I missed half the classes and didn’t turn in one of the two papers (and turned the other one in really late), but I really need to pass this class to graduate.*

      *True story, from last day of class

  3. Say hello to the parents of your friends/people in the community, look them in the eye, answer when they ask how you are doing/how school is going/etc. Have an answer ready ahead of time to likely questions. In other words, be engaged in the situation. Say thank you when a friend’s parent is driving you somewhere. If we’re in a restaurant, how to order from the menu and speak to the server.

    A lot of it is modeling from our end too – our 12 year old (like any kid) sees how we interact with people as we go about our day (whether it be friends or the cashier at the neighbourhood grocery store, etc). And giving her a heads up before a particular event/situation (reminders).

    It takes practice like any skill. It’s related to a previous post on being able to make small talk – coaching them on basic manners makes run of the mill daily interactions that much sweeter for everyone.

    I think that part of the challenge is that we’re pretty stratified by age in north america. In Europe, kids interact regularly with people of all ages from babies up to the elderly. Here, it’s easy for them to hang out primarily with their own age from time zero. And everything is pitched to them. Many don’t know how to “be” in an event/situation/dinner that’s not primarily kid/their age focused.

  4. “We explained to him that people love their dogs as much as their children, so those words apply to people’s pets as well.”

    I’ve tripped up on this one. I called a friend’s dog dumb (and, I was kind of right). My friend got quite distressed and I realized that he’d actually reacted more strongly than if I’d called his child dumb (which I did know not to do). He said yes, he was, because his daughter could defend herself just fine, but his dog couldn’t. It took that learning experience to realize that I can’t use those words with dogs (or cats or tortoises or snakes), either.

    I recently had to instruct all my family members that when you are asked to pass something at the dinner table that you cannot serve yourself before you move the item on as requested, even if it would be so much more efficient that way, or even if you were thinking about to serve yourself. I was asked if I’d been reading Ms. Manners.

    1. Dog people are nuts. I tell my son if he see somebody talking to a dog like it’s a child, he should back away slowly without taking his eyes off the person until he’s out of biting distance.

  5. It strikes me that you are starting this conversation with the idea that a particular individual might need more direct instruction on social skills. But, I’m wondering if more direct instruction is generally necessary in a diverse society.

    In my example above, I needed the instruction about pets, which my friend was able to offer and I modified my behavior. Modifying my behavior didn’t require me to fully understand or accept his view of dogs in his family or in society, but I could certainly obey the instruction not to cause him hurt.

  6. Oh, and smelly tofu, which, I guess, you can call smelly. When I first saw it on a menu, I thought it was a bad translation, but no, it’s not.

    One of our rules is to not “yech someone else’s yum”. I think it was first used by a cousin to reference clam dip (“don’t yech my yum”) and we’ve now realized that it applies in lots of other circumstances.

  7. To a certain extent, I substituted alcohol for social skills. It doesn’t work very well for the kind of social skills mentioned in the OP about not offending people, but honestly, it works better than it should.

    1. There’s a sweet spot for alcohol and social skills though. Too many glasses of wine and I start sharing embarrassing stories from my youth. As I get older that sweet spot gets smaller and smaller. Right now, it’s at about 1-1/2 glasses of wine.

      1. Yes. You need to stop at about 1/4 of your personal “trying to kick out the back window of a police cruiser” dose.

  8. We used a book call Teach Me Language as a jumping off point for a lot of the social rules.

    I remember drawing concentric circles and populating them with people and what you might talk about with immediate family vs. school friends vs. someone who talks to you at the grocery store. Also charts about older people vs. parents vs peers vs. smaller cousins, etc, what’s appropriate and interesting for each group.

    In a way, it was easier when he was young and talked less. We gave him rules about what to say and when. Now he’s a young adult and monologues incessantly and isn’t willing to listen to our suggestions about how to talk less and let other people talk, too. I wish, while he was still listening to me, I had given him rules about not saying more than a few sentences at a time and then waiting until everyone else in the room had had a chance to talk before talking again.

  9. We now live in the midwest, where people (and most kids) are passively-aggressively polite. But when I worked at the World Bank, it was a delightful mix of cultures, some who were blatantly honest – “that skirt makes you look fat.” – “you look very tired today.” – “that color does not look good on you.” etc, etc. It was strangely refreshing.

    However, my dog is slightly overweight, dumb, and smelly and I would not care if someone brought that to my attention. I love her anyway.

    1. “It was strangely refreshing.”

      Welcome to Germany! There are also days when it is refreshingly strange.

      I used to think that folks here believed foreigners were incapable of sarcasm or wordplay, but it turns out they mostly treat each other that way, too, which is how I bestowed the nickname the Land of the Literal. Except for some precious few, mostly from the far north, who have very, very, very dry senses of humor and don’t care if you don’t get the joke so there’s never even a change in facial expression to clue you in.

      It still hurts a little that puns are mistaken for grammatical errors.

      1. sandrat212 said,

        “It’s like the South – lots of subtext that flies over my/our heads if we aren’t from there.”

        Riiiiight.

        Husband and I have lived in a Southernish area for nearly 11 years, and it takes a while to calibrate to the point where you understand that somebody is trying to tell you, “STOP DOING XYZ!” The local culture is very indirect and conflict-averse, which means that there’s a lot of gossip. People will tell everybody but the offending person in the hope that it will eventually get back to the offender. (Plus, gossip is enjoyable…)

        It means that everything takes a lot longer. For example, husband recently got a bad kid call from school, and husband had to sit through an extensive singing of kid’s praises before he was able to get to the point where he got to hear what it was that kid had done. Under those circumstances, it just makes it worse, because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop–because school NEVER calls to explain how amazing your kid is.

        (There are a lot of indirect cultures around the globe, and it occurs to me that Southerners could be very valuable in the US diplomatic corps.)

      2. They could be, except we seem to be sending abroad only the kind of Southern who is extremely direct about where they think Jews and Muslims go after they die.

      3. MH said,

        “They could be, except we seem to be sending abroad only the kind of Southern who is extremely direct about where they think Jews and Muslims go after they die.”

        Why do you think they wind up getting shipped elsewhere?

  10. My Israeli friends tend to judge Christians by what they do, not what they say, and they like Jeffress and Hagee a lot better than the Presbyterians or Episcopalians who say that we are all God’s children while advocating BDS.

      1. So they are going to hell! I guess that’s why my Israeli friends don’t mind Hagee, when they consider the alternative.

      2. Of course, I said nothing of the sort. But twisting the words of others is what keeps Trump and Netanyahu in power despite obvious corruption.

  11. There’s basic skills, and then there’s advanced skills.

    Blessed be those who rescue me from other guests who have a Favorite Topic Involving People Who Have Done Them Wrong in the Past. I’m not good at cocktail chatter, but every once in a while I encounter someone who’s even worse.

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