Teach kids the finer points of social interaction

  • Chicago Tribune
  • January 21, 2012 - 2:41 PM

Your 6-year-old ignores people when they speak to her. Can you help her tune in?

Step one, as they say, is admitting there's a problem. And there is.

"Sometimes people say, 'Oh, my child is shy,'" said Maribeth Kuzmeski, author of "The Engaging Child." "So you sort of label them and tell yourself that's why they're not speaking to adults."

Shy or not, typically functioning kids need to learn to engage with the world around them. Unfortunately, it has never been easier to tune the world out, thanks to ear buds, iPads and countless other devices.

Here's how Kuzmeski handles the problem in her home.

Prioritize. "First, we teach our kids that people are more important than things," she says. "If a person walks in the room, especially an adult, they are now more important than what you're doing."

Practice. "Prepare your child ahead of time with some information that may help them actually have a conversation. If you're going to a place where you know there will be adults, tell them who will be there and help them come up with things to talk about. 'Aunt Judy just took a trip to Canada. You could ask about her trip.'"

Improvise. Teach your child the power of a well-timed compliment. "My daughter actually taught me this. She said, 'When I can't think of anything to say to someone, I compliment what they're wearing.' ... The next thing you know you're having a conversation and engaging in a different way."

Model. "If you tell your kids not to swear, you can't go around swearing all the time. It's the same with putting your technology down."

Think bigger. The problem goes way beyond technology, of course. "When you walk in a room, do you shake hands and look people in the eye? When you answer the phone, how do you talk to the telemarketer? Your children are learning how to treat other people. And they can't delineate between a telemarketer and your neighbor."


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