If you are a parent of a child that has flamed out at a summer program this year, you are not at all alone. Kids who don’t make it in traditional summer settings typically present with a profile (such as ADHD) that while might be considered as falling under any special needs accommodations a program advertises, is not a profile that is well understood as a special need. The other side is that these kids don’t have the degree of support needs that children with other disabilities may have, so finding the right summer equation is not easy.
What would be easy, but is somewhat of a dream I may never see come true, is that we find ways to train adults and young counselors in programs and our schools that work with and teach our children, be aware of, watch for, and intervene in social hot spots.
The crux of social coaching is staying constantly in tune with what is going on as kids are interacting. It is especially important to keep the kids that we know can quickly light a social fire on our radar at all times. When my staff or I hear or just think we smell the spark of a conflict or problem, we alert each other that there is a hot spot and a potential friendship fire about to ignite. So many of these fires come from a misunderstanding that if caught in time, teaches kids to stop, drop, and roll with a situation. A few of the smoke signals that we need to look and listen for when kids are playing:
- Sounds of frustration. I ask myself when I am listening to kids that are playing if I am hearing a happy sound or one that is signaling social distress.
- Exchanges between kids that grow more heated without the kids solving it themselves.
- A child persistently saying, “Stop it!”
- Physical signs such as a child’s face reddening, fist clenching, or other signs of agitation or the inability to self-modulate.
The faster you respond, the better outcome you will have and a lit match doesn’t have to turn into a three-alarm blaze. Keeping your own temperature under control is also a vital component when you enter a social hot spot. Getting every side to the story, especially of the one child who responded poorly, helps build the trust these kids need to work with you and not against you.
Do I think every program should be designed to fit every child? No. That is not possible and we as parents realize that and know that our typical-but-not-typical fall-through-the-cracks kids have more limited options of environments where they will be truly understood. Do I think those limited options could increase by more of us carrying buckets of water into social hot spots and dousing them with listening, patience, understanding, and the right amount of loving firmness? Absolutely.
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