It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend: Part IV – Social Skills at School: Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic, and Relationships

   In Part I, I gave an overview of a book that, despite its 10-year anniversary, is still highly relevant.  Kids Need Love When They Deserve It Least: A Review of It’s So Much Work to Be Your Friend, by Rick Lavoie.  As I concluded, “Social miscues become “teachable moments.”  Or, to quote, Mr. Lavoie, “Kids need love most when they deserve it least.”  This sentiment, as well as the use of the term friend in the title, reflect Mr. Lavoie’s deep compassion and understanding of children, seeing issues from the perspective of the child, for which he has earned fame and respect in his early PBS videos, How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City Workshop and When the Chips Are Down.”   In Part II, I covered how Mr. Lavoie explores why these children with learning disabilities and accompanying social skills deficits “do the things they do.”   In Part III, I discussed social skills on the home front, especially dealing with siblings.

Learning disabilities often mask disabilities in managing social skills .

Learning disabilities often mask disabilities in managing social skills .

Bullies, Victims, and Spectators
   Children with social skills deficits often find themselves assuming one of these three roles involuntarily.  Bullying is any unwelcome physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual act committed against another.  Bullying includes humiliation, ostracizing, and humiliation.  It is imperative for parents to take such situations seriously while, at the same time, remaining calm.  Unless the bullying is very serious, however, parents are advised to coach their child to enable him or her to handle the situation through self-advocacy.  Victims are often shy and sensitive children, and they will need a great deal of encouragement.

In the case when the child with the learning is the bully, the behavior must be dealt with in a firm but understanding manner.  Why is the child acting out?  How can unmet needs be met?  Kindness, empathy, and good citizenship must be taught and reinforced.  Mr. Lavoie notes well, “the trait shared by both the bully and the victim is low self-esteem.”

Mastering the “Hidden Curriculum”
   The “Hidden Curriculum” comprises the unwritten and even unspoken rules of school; the challenge is to be able to read, perceive these rules that make up the classroom and school culture.  “Students with learning problems often lack the observational and conceptual skills to comprehend the Hidden Curriculum of their school,” the one everyone is expected to know.  The Hidden Curriculum includes the following:

  • The school building itself and where the rooms are located
  • The school schedule and procedures
  • The social scene, including “in” clothing, music, and language
  • Administrators and teachers and the habits and personalities of each.

Teacher-Pleasing Behaviors
   Many teachers are troubled by the failure of many children to practice basic manners, whether using polite language or abstaining from uttering what is best not said.  Among children with learning disabilities and social skills deficits, such behavior may be more prevalent, albeit unintended.  Teachers not familiar with the child may mistakenly take offense in such situations.  Says Mr. Lavoie, “For many students with learning problems, these skills are unrealistic and inconsistent.  The child’s noncompliance with the teacher’s instruction is viewed as willful and disrespectful, although it may be neither.”  These children will require instruction and periodic reinforcement.  As Mr. Lavoie reminds us, negative reinforcement stops behavior but positive reinforcement stops that behavior from recurring.  Just as a teacher should know the student, the student should know the teacher and what behaviors and habits are pleasing and displeasing to that teacher.

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