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Helping Your Child Interpret Social Interactions

November 10, 2021
By Mara Mauze, PhD, ABPP

As we get a few months further into the school year, students are sharing more and more of their daytime activities and peer interactions with parents and teachers at school.  As fun as it is to hear what your child is doing at school, sometimes they may relay stories you’re not quite sure how to interpret.  Below are some tips to help get more details when your child shares aspects of their day.

1. Validate the feeling.  If your child comes home saying he was back safety patrol or a friend threw sand on her, reflect your child’s feeling back to them.  “Wow, it must have been exciting to be back safety” or “I’m sorry to hear sand was thrown on you. How did that make you feel?”

2. Ask follow-up questions.  As a parent, I can be quick to jump to conclusions based on what my child tells me.  Follow-up questions can provide a very different explanation than the one I had in my head.  For example, if my child comes home and tells me a friend threw sand on him, my next questions would be “what were you working on when that happened?  Did your friend see you?  What did you do when this happened?  Did you talk to anyone about it?  What was their reaction?”  I might hear “someone threw sand on me” and assume that a peer threw sand at my child in anger or frustration. Further clarification may reveal that one child was enthusiastically digging a hole and the spray landed on my child, who was standing behind.  Technically, the story reported to me was true, but the intention between the two scenarios is very different.

3. Help your child problem solve.  If your child reports that something happened, ask if they used their words. If the answer is no, talk with your child about what they could have said.  “How could you have let Carrie know how you feel?  What could you have said to ask Wendy to stop?” Also help your child identify other solutions.  “What could you have done when Mara kept throwing sand?  Could you talk to your teacher?  What adults were nearby who could have helped you?

4. Children at this age often struggle with interpretation and motivation.  They know how they were impacted by a situation but are not great at knowing if an incident was accidental, teasing, on purpose, careless, etc.  Ask your child questions about another child’s facial expression, tone, or body language.  “What did Carrie’s face look like when this happened?  Was she smiling? Did she look sorry?”  “You said Wendy was angry.  What about her face or body told you that?”  This is great to practice with siblings or family members.  “How did you know Mommy was serious when I asked you to stop?  What about my voice or my face told you I wasn’t teasing?  How did you know Daddy was happy?  What about his face or body said he was okay?”

If your child ever reports something to you that raised your concern or that seems out of line or unusual, please reach out to your teacher.  You can message them directly through the Playground App.  We know that many of our children have not had typical social interactions over the past two years due to Covid so rest assured we are having these same conversations at school.  If you have broader questions or would like more resources and support in navigation social relationships, please reach out to Wendy or Mara.  We are always more than happy to help you and your family navigate these situations.