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Ask the Experts

My Child is Too Social

By Dr. Michelle Alvarez, Consulting Educator

Question:

My fifth-grader is a natural social butterfly. This year, it has started to interfere with her work performance. At the beginning of the year, she was allowed to sit next to her friends. It wasn't long before the teacher had to move them. However, she still continues to use her socializing skills in the classroom. She has a very bubbly personality and I don't want her to lose that. But I also want her to perform to her full academic potential. We have talked about refraining from the chatter until lunch or recess, which works for a couple of days. But then she returns to the same behavior. Any suggestions?

Answer:

It is very natural for a fifth-grader to be interested in her peers and social relationships. You are right to want to encourage her "bubbly" personality because it is a strength of hers. What I would do is focus on finding ways that she can be social in the classroom and work with her on being social at the appropriate times.

Perhaps the teacher can incorporate some activities that would allow her to talk with her peers as a part of classroom activities. What she needs to learn is the difference between appropriate times to talk with peers and inappropriate times.

Meet with the teacher and review a typical day at school. Learn about opportunities that she may have or ones that could be built in to allow for appropriate social time. Talk with your daughter about the times she can socialize. Provide a consistent message at home and in school that defines these appropriate times for her. Praise her for her efforts to socialize only at appropriate times. Have the teacher write notes in her academic planner about how she does each day.

You might even reward her at the end of the week if she socializes at appropriate times. Make the rewards natural such as a special breakfast on the weekend, more TV time or inviting a friend over. The fact that just talking about refraining from chatter has worked for a few days is very promising. A more structured plan should provide her what she needs to be successful.

If for some reason your daughter is not successful with this first strategy, have the teacher track the times that she has trouble. If she struggles more at certain times of the day, then the teacher can incorporate additional strategies during these times. For example, the teacher might have her work with a peer on the assignment, giving her a reason to talk but keeping the talk focused on classwork.

Keep trying different strategies until you find one that works. Involve your daughter in creating strategies to increase the likelihood that she will be successful.


Dr. Michelle Alvarez is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern Indiana and project director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students for the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation. A former school social worker in Pinellas County, Florida, she is co-editor of School Social Work: Theory to Practice and chair of the National Association of Social Workers, School Social Work Section. She is also the parent of a special needs child.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

06/19/2012:
"I have the same problem with my fifth grader. Every report card and teacher conference there is a remark of talkative and social butterfly. I recently found out that this year he had a long term seat next to the teacher. I like that he isn't shy like I was however, we have many conversations on the appropriate times to have conversations with friends. "
02/14/2011:
"Now my situation is different but the same I have a thirteen year old that is a social butterfly but use to be very shy. This is affecting her grades as well as her behavior in sports and I don't know what to do about it, I'm at my wits end about this because I've talked to her about the appropriate times to be social butterfly but none of that seems to be working, need some advice with and older child, she's in 8th grade now and I don't want her going into high school with this same behavior. I thought it was a phase and it will end but no it continues. "
12/15/2009:
"I have the same issue with my 5year old son. The teach says that he's very bright, but loves to socialize. He also, likes to be the class clown. The teacher has been trying to correct the situation, but is still having an issue with him in class only during circle time. I know he gets a little bored and gets distracted easily by one of the other boys that he friends with. I plan to speak with him, but I'm going to try one of the suggestions in this article. I hope it works."
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