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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Helping Young People Develop Friendships

Parents and professionals often struggle with helping young people learn to be good friends or to understand the complexities of social interactions. Below are a number of strategies that can help them to develop friendships.

1. Get Involved – Participate in community sports teams, art programs, and special events. These are wonderful opportunities for young people to engage in structured activities with peers. For young people with special needs, communities increasingly are offering events and activities geared towards their specific needs. Ask professionals and support groups for information on these programs or check your community newspapers, centres, and websites. Another great activity, for young people who benefit from very direct instruction, is social skills groups. These groups, which are offered in many communities, are a great way for young people to develop their social skills in a fun yet structured environment.

2. Consider the Child’s Interests – If the goal of enrolling a child in a program is to provide opportunities for making friends, look for activities the child enjoys. Some young people like the arts while others enjoy sports. If a child is particularly shy, look for activities that initially have less direct contact, for example swimming. Conversely sports like football and rugby involve more contact with peers. If young people start in activities they enjoy, they are more likely to join other programs.

3. Role Play Difficult Skills – Practicing social skills is a way to work on specific aspects of social interactions. For example, if you notice your child stands too close to peers or repeatedly asks the same questions, help them learn about personal space or conversational skills through role play. By practicing these skills in the home, young people can learn to improve their social skills and apply them outside the home.

4. Provide Examples – While reading books or watching television, explain social situations to young people. Point out how helping others, using kind words, and listening when friends talk are ways to be a good friend. When characters are being hurtful or invading someone’s personal space, point these actions out and ask the child what the character could do differently to be a better friend.

5. Model Being Good to Others – Part of being well liked and being a good friend is being kind. Demonstrate kindness by saying nice things about and to others whether they are the supermarket chechout operator or a neighbour. Point out when a colleague does something thoughtful and how this makes you feel about them. If your child is sympathetic or says something complimentary, tell them their actions made you happy.

6. Do Not Force Friendships – Just like adults, young people get along better with some peers than others. Teaching young people to be kind and to include everyone in activities is important, but they do not have to be best friends with everyone.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Getting Ready for the Summer Holidays

1. Prepare Children – Prepare children for the summer holidays while they are still in school. Classrooms often have a countdown to summer, but including one in the home also is helpful. Discuss summer holidays with children including when they will go back to school and what they will do over the holidays. Read books about summer, and school holidays.

2. Make Cards – If children are concerned about not seeing their friends and teacher, have them create cards for everyone. The cards can have memories from the school year or a simple message, “Have a nice summer. See you in September.” Cards are a great way for children to share their feelings and learn about giving.

3. Don’t Forget School – Arrange summer play days with classmates before school ends so children know they will see their friends soon. Use the class photo as a way to discuss and remember classmates, or make a book about the past year, “Malcolm’s Year in Mrs Smith’s Class.”

4. Maintain Structure – The school day provides a significant amount of structure for children. A transition from a full day of planned activities to one with little structure can be very difficult for children. Have a routine so children have consistency in their lives. Set times for waking up, going to bed, eating, and other activities so children know what to expect during the day. If children have a routine with different activities on different days of the week such as swimming lessons Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and library time on Tuesdays, make a calendar showing these activities with words or pictures so children see the day’s activities. Some children may benefit from a very structured schedule. If children use a visual timetable at school, ask their teacher how to implement it at home. Besides including structured activities, remember a schedule can include periods of choice and free play while still providing support and structure.

5. Keep Activities Handy – Keep materials for art activities (paper, paints, buttons, glue, magazines) handy. Art activities develop fine motor skills and encourage creativity. Cooking lunch or snacks is a fun activity for children and it encourages reading, basic numeracy (fractions, counting), and turn taking.

6. Start Summer-Long Responsibilities – Give children activities for the summer. Gardening activities such as a small plot in the garden or a herb garden are a great opportunity for children to watch plants grow, care for them, and see the fruits of their labour. If children are not interested in gardening, give them responsibilities with a family pet (brushing, feeding, walking) or another household activity. These activities can be expanded upon by reading about the topic.

7. Ask the Teacher – If you have concerns about a child’s transition from school to summer, ask their teacher for suggestions. The teacher may have specific ideas for your child’s needs or they may know about activities your child would enjoy. They also can provide ways to help your son or daughter prepare for the next school year.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Ways to Increase Communication and Language

There are a variety of ways to increase communication depending on a child’s age and ability level. Below are some ideas for increasing language and communication throughout the day.

1. Expand Sentence Length – When children answer a question or request an item using one or two words, increase their sentence length by repeating their answer with an expanded phrase. For example, if you ask a child, “Would you like orange juice?” and they answer “Yes,” model a longer response. “Yes, I would like orange juice.” Then have the child repeat the phrase.

2. Use Books for Language - Reading stories is an excellent way to incorporate language into a fun activity. Ask questions about the pictures, the story, and the characters. Even very young children can identify colours, gender, words, or concepts (e.g. the boy that is the tallest/shortest) by pointing to pictures. Ask the children to predict what is going to happen next throughout the story. After finishing the book, review what happened in the story.

3. Create Situations that Promote Language - Favourite toys, clothes, and foods can motivate young children to use language. Store favourite items in eye sight, but out of reach, so children have to use their words to request the items.

4. Provide Choices – Give children choices in activities, stories, toys, and foods so they communicate their preferences. You can create an opportunity for communication even if you know a child is going to select a favourite story or game.

5. Find Time to Communicate – Many children like being entertained by technology, but opportunities for communication are lost when families spend a good deal of time watching television and playing video games. Turn off the television during meals and refrain from using portable video games in the car. Time spent together at the dinner table and in the car are wonderful opportunities for learning about a child’s day and increasing communication and language skills.

6. Be Supportive – Children are more likely to communicate if they feel valued. Encourage language by listening attentively to children and asking them questions. If children answer questions incorrectly, teach them the correct answers using kind, supportive words. Repeatedly asking a question a child does not know how to answer or condescendingly correcting them can hurt their feelings and decreases the chance they will answer questions in the future. Instead, encourage them to say, “I don’t know,” and use the situation as a learning opportunity.

7. Be a Role Model – Children learn from the adults around them. When adults speak in full sentences, use correct grammar, and articulate well, children hear and are reminded of how words and sentences should sound.