Do you know your teeth are two different colors?
So, you’re not a natural blonde?
Why are your arms so wrinkled and soft?” That one was a real OUCH!
And to one of my co-leaders, “you have the biggest nostrils I have ever seen on a human.”
These are just a few of the appearance comments I’ve heard over the many years of working with kids. I’ve grown a tough skin over time and understand these comments for what they are, spoken-aloud observations, and I’ve made peace with the fact that along with the aging process, comes a lot more patience and wisdom as a perk.
Typically, these types of appearance comments come from kids on the spectrum. None of them have any hurtful intent. The problem from a social skills aspect is that the remarks can be hurtful, or can sound insulting, to the person whose appearance is being commented upon.
What to do? It depends on the level of social understanding of the child or teen who makes these types of comments. Some of them need it to be very black and white, as in no appearance comments, ever, and explain that while it is completely understood that they are making observations and there is no ill intent, it is safe to say that almost ALL people are sensitive when it comes to comments about their physical appearance.
Other kids can handle learning that they can feel free to comment on things that are external to someone’s physical appearance. Examples would be complimenting an outfit, a piece of jewelry, shoes, etc. And that’s only if they are truly complimenting someone. It is not okay to voice your opinion or observation on someone’s external look or fashion if you don’t like it and have nothing nice to say. It’s better to learn to say nothing at all.
What if you are the recipient of a child or teen’s appearance comment? First, understand it for what it is, an observation. There is a distinct difference in the delivery between one of these comments or an obvious insult. These guys will sound very innocent and there will be no malice or intended hurt involved. But, the hurt can be real for the receiver, especially if it is a physical attribute we are already sensitive about or a new one brought to our attention.
This is a perfect teaching opportunity, where you can say something such as, “I know that you are just making an observation about my _, but I am sensitive about that, and remarks about people’s appearance will accidentally and almost always hurt their feelings. It’s important for you to have good relationships for you to keep your observations about people’s physical appearance to yourself.”
There are kids, especially in the older groups, that come to us having had nothing but experiences of social rejection. They feel defeated and angry. They have no friends, have given up, and say that they don’t care. And, their ways of coping with prolonged rejection, can make things worse.
Peer rejection is a two-way street. When a child has no friends, that child or teen is typically struggling with one or more of these barriers to friendship:
- Thinking they are funny when they really aren’t (for older kids, this can be in the form of “shock” or “creepy” talk);
- No understanding of personal space and boundaries;
- Being bossy, rigid, and controlling with peers;
- Getting stuck on one topic or an unusual interest;
- Missing or misreading social cues and feedback;
- Speaking in a rude, mean, or disrespectful tone of voice;
- Behaving in aggressive ways or struggling with impulsivity;
- Poor sportsmanship; and
- Over-reactions to something that is done or said.
Social skills are something that does not come naturally to these kids. Just like math and athletic skills can be challenging for other kids. The difference is, most kids aren’t rejected for not being good at math or sports, but if a child has weak social skills, they are painfully rejected for who they are as a person. The process of helping them with these skills is the same. Just like you would get a tutor for math or a coach for tennis, the same can be done for social skills.
Do you recognize your child or teen as having one or more of these barriers? The younger you begin with social skills coaching and tutoring, the more successful your child will be. Trying to start this process at the end of middle school is a lot harder. Kids are hardened by their experiences and may feel that nothing will get better. It still can, but we can’t create interest in or motivation to improve. The older child must bring that to the table.
I am currently working with some kids that feel this way, and are presenting with lines of defense that come from years of hurt and rejection. My wish for them is to allow us the time to show them that it can be very different. Here is a group of kids that won’t reject you. Here are some true, potential friends. You need to do your part to see how social success is a two-way street and work with us on those things that have gotten in your way before. Please, try this one more time. If a teen is open to coaching, we can open their world.
Yup. I did.
How to you explain the need for and the reasons behind the white lie? It’s very tricky, especially with children who think in a very literal way. After all, they have been told that lying is bad. And most of time, it’s true that the truth is better and causes less damage in the end.
But there are times when the proverbial white lie is needed to prevent damage. I tell kids to think of it not so much as a lie, but as a tool to use to spare someone else’s feelings.
In this case, one child had asked another child what he thought of the Lego ship he had built. The child who was asked his opinion offered up several critical comments. I mentioned to him that in this instance, the other child wasn’t asking for criticism or suggestions, he just wanted to show him the ship, but didn’t happen to say it that way. I went on to explain, that the best response to that type of question is, “Yeah, that’s cool” or “Nice.”
So the litmus test of telling a lie? Will it hurt me or someone else? Don’t tell it. Will it get me in trouble if the truth comes out? Don’t tell it. Will it help spare someone’s feelings? Use it as the tool that it is.
For kids who become easily bored or have difficulty focusing on an activity for a long period of time, the challenge can arise with peers about sticking with something.
Sticking it out, even when you don’t really want to do so, is an important skill needed to keep your friendships.
Actions such as leaving a game before it’s over can have a negative impact on relationships with peers. Leaving them hanging, so to speak.
So too, is the problem of trying to multi-task when you are playing with a friend or friends. Frequent reminders to come back to a game or that it is your turn can be frustrating for the other players to repeatedly give.
What if you are playing with a friend one minute, and then they are gone the next. Playing something different with someone else, without ne’er a goodbye or “I’ll be back.”
Sure, the best thing to do is to stick with it. So we worked very hard on having all of the players finish a round of Wii bowling the other afternoon, just to practice this skill. I commended the players who didn’t want to stick it out for doing what they needed to do.
Worst case, if a child really is not yet ready to tolerate sticking it out, we work on exit strategies, such as letting the other child know that you just feel ready to do something else, finding someone to substitute for you in the game, or declaring an “automatic winner” if someone decides to quit.