Being a good social detective is complex. It involves being socially aware and able to respond to social cues, understanding nonverbal social cues, recognizing emotions, and being able to think about others. Throughout the summer there are many situations in which you can help your child build these important life skills.
On the Go: While in the car, you can prepare your child to be more socially aware and let them know what is expected of them. For example, if you are on your way to the water park, you can let your child know some of the park’s social rules. You might explain that running in the park could be dangerous, and that it’s important to always have an adult nearby. This priming helps to lessen the child’s anxiety and also helps them think in advance about how to act.
Guess the Destination: This is also a useful activity while in the car. Help the child make smart guesses about where they are going by giving clues. For example, “We’re headed to a place that sells something cold and delicious” or “It’s Wednesday afternoon and I have your soccer ball in the trunk; where do we usually go after school on Wednesdays?” By doing this you are increasing the child’s real-life predicting and executive function skills.
How Are They Connected? While sitting by the pool or having a picnic at the park you can improve your child’s social detective skills by observing others and trying to determine their relationship to one another. Help your child notice the nonverbal interactions between other people and the words that they use with each other. For example, if a young girl is sitting on a man’s lap and he is comforting her because she fell down, could that be her dad? Or, two young children are getting out of a car with a woman. Could they be siblings with their mom, or are they with a babysitter or friend? Help your child determine the level of closeness and relationships through careful observation.
Why Are We Here? Tell your child that you are going to get out of the heat by heading to the mall and that you’re playing a social detective game. The child has to figure out what item you need to buy at the mall. They can ask “wonder questions” such as “What size is it?”, “Who is it for?”, and “What store do we get it from?” Keep the child engaged and focused by helping them ask questions and make smart guesses to figure out the item you are buying. While at the mall, take a break from shopping and ask your child to make social observations about other shoppers. What might it mean if a person is going into a pet store or carrying a brand new tennis racket?
Friends at the Park: Have your child observe kids at the park to find a child who might have similar interests (e.g., building sandcastles, playing with trucks, throwing a ball, etc.). Spending time observing first with your child increases their awareness of social situations and reduces the chance of rejection by other kids because your child will already know whether or not a potential playmate has similar interests. When your child is ready to dive in, help them initiate play and share toys with another child.
Family Compromising: Help your child learn to think about others by giving the child two different summer activities and asking which one the majority of the family would prefer. For example, do they think the majority of the family would like to go to the beach or take a bike ride? Help them reflect on what they already know about what other family members like to do and what would be the best choice for enjoying the day. Helping children think about other people’s interests and make compromises is great for building perspective-taking skills.
Hot and Cold: Hide an object in the house and play a silent game of “Hot and Cold.” Give exaggerated nonverbal clues through facial expressions and body language to show if the child is close or far away from the object. Smile and nod when they are close to the object, and frown and shake your head when they are getting farther away. This activity helps to increase your child’s understanding of nonverbal language and is fun for all ages.
With little fuss, parents and caregivers can teach, model, and facilitate social learning and participation. Family time is filled with teachable moments to embrace and have fun with. Most of the activities suggested here and many others can be found in my book, Make Social Learning Stick! I encourage parents and caregivers to be both coaches and cheerleaders for their children and become the glue that makes the learning stick!
Elizabeth Sautter, M.A., CCC-SLP is co-director and co-owner of Communication Works (cwtherapy.com), a private practice in Oakland, California, offering speech, language, social, and occupational therapy. She is the co-author of the Whole Body Listening Larry (socialthinking.com) books. Her most recent book is Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities (aapcpublishing.net). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her: website; Facebook; Pinterest; Twitter.