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By Melinda Sacks
"There is a balance of skills you need to navigate relationships successfully in the teen years," says psychiatrist Damon Korb, whose private practice in Los Gatos, California, focuses on families whose children have learning and social difficulties.
"Relationships are all about reading social cues and understanding another person's perspective. If you don't automatically do those things, it can cause trouble initiating and sustaining relationships."
The necessary skills for creating and keeping relationships come naturally for most of us, yet they are numerous. From developing the ability to read someone else's body language to understanding how far away to stand from someone during conversation, when to talk and when to listen, and even how much of one's personal feelings it is safe and appropriate to reveal at any given time, the nuances of interacting with other people can be overwhelming. For kids like our son, these social skills are not as developed as for many of his peers. And teens are not exactly tolerant when someone acts in a way they deem unacceptable.
For these reasons, Dr. Korb points out, it is important for parents to do what they can to help their children learn how to have successful relationships. He offers some helpful suggestions, which can be initiated well before the teen years, but can continue to help during adolescence:
When dealing with younger children, taking "field trips" to observe and learn about human behavior is another fun and instructive approach therapists recommend. Consider going to the mall for a "people-watching trip." Who makes good eye contact? What happens when a boy touches a girl's arm as they are talking, or when a girl puts her arm around a boy? Who is good at making other people laugh? How does he do it? Observe social space, Korb suggests, to help kids know how close to stand to others and how loudly to talk. As a guide to how much and what kind of instruction to give your child, consider his developmental age rather than actual years.
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