By: Rifka Schonfeld

Hymie is the genius of the class. He scores 100 on every test, understands even the most difficult pieces of Gemara, and makes complicated math computations in seconds. What he can’t do easily, however, is make friends.
“He seems to push people away,” his mother reports. “When I send him to play, he comes home minutes later, grumbling. His rabbitells me that when he made groups, he thought everybody would want to be with Hymie – but the boys asked to be switched.”
Hymie doesn’t know why he can’t make or keep friends. The playground is as challenging for him as an algebraic equation for his less-brilliant classmates. He can’t “get it” socially. Everything he says or does is rejected, as though the world is against him.
Hymie is blessed with a high IQ, but suffers from a poor EIQ – Emotional Intelligence Quotient. He is unable to read nonverbal cues, and understand when he is annoying. He has a poor sense of space – he invades the space of others, by standing too close and touching them. People feel uncomfortable and back away when he approaches.
Hymie’s social skills could potentially have a significant impact upon his life. Experts have established that interpersonal skills, the ability to make and maintain relationships, are more vital to a person’s success than intelligence.
Like traditional intelligence, social skills are often innate, with some children naturally possessing more emotional intelligence than others. Nevertheless, there is plenty that can be done to help children develop proper social skills.
 
Social Red Flags
The first step is identifying poor social skills. Social skills training can help children tremendously, but only once the problem is recognized. Parents should take note if their child:
·      Doesn’t have friends
·      Is often excluded from games and events
·      Often fights with others
·      Doesn’t maintain eye contact
·      Is a poor sport
·      Is bullied
·      Is a bully
·      Can’t control his anger
·      Has low self esteem
·      Plays only with older or younger children
·      Exhibits any other behavior that demonstrates a lack of social aptitude.
 
Upon observing poor social skills, parents and teachers can practice proper behaviors with the child, or consult with an advisor.
 
Knowing When and How to Join In
Many children find it hard to join a game or conversation. Some are too shy, and just hang around without participating, leading to isolation and loneliness.
“My daughter never joins the girls in their games. I sometimes watch and see her try to inch her way in.”
Others are pushy, and burst in inappropriately.
“When my daughter saw her friends deeply involved in a game, she just grabbed a pawn and started playing. She didn’t ask permission, and couldn’t understand why they were annoyed.” 
These children can learn to recognize an opportune time to join, when there is a lull in the conversation; and how. They can also learn to size up a situation, and decide whether or not it is wise to join.
 
Communication
Communication is a skill involving give and take. Children who can’t keep a conversation going will have a hard time making friends. They, too, may suffer from isolation and loneliness.
One expert suggests that when a child has a hard time keeping up a conversation, parents can coach him by comparing the give and take to a ball game. Teach children that when someone tells them something, the ball is “in their court,” and it is their turn to “throw the ball” by responding appropriately.
If a classmate says, “I spent two hours studying,” the child should come up with something appropriate. He may say, “I woke up at 6:00 to finish.” If he gets a response, he should continue. The other boy might say, “I can’t wait to get over with it,” and he might reply, “Me, too.” The goal is to teach the child to “keep the ball going back and forth” until the conversation comes to a conclusion.
 
Reading Non-Verbal Cues.
A large percentage of communication is non-verbal. Facial expression, tone of voice and body language impart messages that are as important as spoken words. A child who cannot read non-verbal cues is disadvantaged.
“Yesterday, Vicky kept talking about her grandmother. She went on and on, even though her seatmate looked disinterested and rolled her eyes. Vicky continued while the girl started doing homework. When the girl changed seats, Vicky was hurt. She didn’t ‘get’ the message of disinterest.” Children can improve their social abilities by learning to recognize body language that expresses various emotions.
 
Social aptitude involves a range of skills, including anger management, conflict resolution and eye contact, among others. These skills can be learned, and, with proper training, all children can improve their social standing and chances of success.
 
Rifka Schonfeld is the Director of S.O.S (Strategies for Optimum Student Success)