Rory was one of my favourite students, because he made me laugh – falling on the floor, howling, stomach-cramping laughter. He had a wild imagination and a sophisticated sense of humour for his age. We had conversations that I couldn’t have believed I was having with an eight-year-old, if not for his difficulty pronouncing Rs, which lent another level of irony to our banter.
The following conversation took place close to Hallowe’en, and ensued when he said that I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing a ghost. I would, in his words, “fweak out”.
“I don’t know, Rory, I think I would handle it okay,” I said. (This is true, for the record.)
“Well, maybe you would,” he conceded, “if you were one of the Ghostbusters.”
“How do you know I’m not?” I asked him. “You don’t know what I do when I’m not here.”
“I do too,” he said. “I know lots of things about you.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, baiting him, thinking, This should be good. “What do you know about me?”
“Well, I know you have a cat.”
“Nope, no cat. I’m allergic to cats.”
“Well, then it must have been a dog,” he said.
“Nope, no dog either. My mother has two dogs, and I help take care of them sometimes, but I don’t have a dog.”
Then Rory said what I had been waiting for. With three words, he deftly took our mundane exchange about ghostbusting and made it interesting. He shifted his eyes and grumbled, “Curse you, ladybug.”
“What’s that, Rory?” I said, cool as a cucumber.
“Well,” he said, suddenly casual, “I built a robot ladybug to follow you around.”
There it was!
“Really, Rory. Well. Your robot ladybug has been feeding you false information.”
“Oh, no!” he said, throwing up his hands in a gesture of exasperation. “I was feeding it apple juice, when I should have been feeding it orange juice!”
“Yeah, that happens,” I said. “Don’t beat yourself up about it.”
“Well, I still do know some things about you,” he said. He had bounced back quickly from the bad news about his ladybug.
“Oh really? Like what?”
“Well, I know your mother has two dogs.”
This conversation was a slam-dunk for Rory. He demonstrated three important social skills. First of all, he made me laugh. That’s a great skill, and not an easy one to teach (although we will be giving a class on comedy in April as part of our Bears theme). Secondly, he listened attentively. That was clear from the way he responded to everything I said. Thirdly, when he learned a detail about my life, he remembered it. This is part of another important social skill: getting to know someone.
As Lawrence Shapiro states in 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills, it is “important to be able to get along with many different kinds of people … Each bit of information you learn about someone will help you build a relationship with that person.” A kid Rory’s age could easily have heard me mention my mom’s dogs and then forgotten about them, but he paid attention, and he identified that detail about me as something worth remembering. Now he knows me better.
Every time your child interacts with someone is an opportunity for them to practice getting to know people. Encourage them to ask new friends, classmates and playmates about their interests, likes and dislikes, pets, and other details about their lives. Then later, when you’re alone with them, ask them what their peers are like. You might be surprised what you learn!
RECOMMENDED: 101 Ways to Teach Children Social Skills by Lawrence E. Shapiro
Vanessa Farkas is a writer, musician, educator, and lifetime learner who worked at the Phoenix Education Foundation as a music teacher from 2010-2018 and has left to retrain and pursue a new career as a legal assistant. Her eight years at Phoenix have left her enriched with experiences and stories, and this series blends those stories and experiences with practical advice and perspectives on helping children develop social skills. Names have been changed.