Your Teen Needs Social Coaching but They Refuse – What to do?
By Nadine Briggs
As a follow up to my last blog, 8 Signs That Your Child/Teen Needs Social Coaching, this week I address an issue that can be a barrier to learning social skills. Some teens are too anxious to even try a social skills group, even when they know they need help socializing.
Check out 8 Signs That Your Child/Teen Needs Social Coaching:
As kids enter the teen years, parents become increasingly concerned that their teen is not making friends. The start of a new school year brings a hopeful anticipation that this will be the year that they find a friend group. When that doesn’t happen by November of the school year, though, parents contact us to see if we can help.
In our initial phone intake, parents explain the social issues that they have observed in their teen. If our program meets their needs, we will schedule a free trial group. Once parents have the discussion about a trial group with their teen, the rise in anxiety is often immediate and the avoidance begins. The teens will sometimes tell their parents that they’re fine without any friends and they prefer to be alone. Or a teen might tell their parents that that they actually do have friends after all. Teens will say, “I’m fine. I don’t need any help.” Parents are often at a loss when they know that their teen is having trouble making friends, but they refuse to try coaching.
Teens with anxiety will often say whatever it takes to avoid trying something new. Teens have worries about meeting new teens. It makes sense that teens would apprehensive since building friendships has likely been a lifelong struggle. They’re worried because they know they aren’t going to know any of the kids or the adults in the room. They also don’t know what to expect. They think of all the worst scenarios.
A litany of “what if” questions take over their thoughts.
“What if the other kids aren’t nice?”
“What if the coaches have me participate by having me talk to people?”
“What if I say something embarrassing?”
“What if I feel super uncomfortable?”
“What if everyone thinks I’m weird?”
“What if I think everyone there is weird?”
Teens might report physical discomforts like stomachaches and headaches. Parents try to figure out if they are coming down with an illness, or if the symptoms are due to anxiety. The fact that they are burdened with all these fears about socializing shows that they actually do need coaching. Social skills coaching helps teens learn how to socialize so the thought of meeting new people isn’t so scary.
Here are some tips that can help teens feel comfortable with trying the free trial group:
We encourage parents to understand and verbalize that you know this is hard for them. Teens really appreciate having their views validated by their parents.
2. Prepare for the Future
We guide parents on what to tell their teens by suggesting that they tell them our program will help them to be successful in the next stage of life. If they are in middle school, it will help them to prepare for high school. If they are in high school, it will give them the tools needed for whatever is after high school. Whether they join the work force, attend a trade school, join the military, or attend college, these skills will help them lifelong. Be aware, though, that this conversation can also cause anxiety. If you feel that discussing this with your particular teen will increase their anxiety, then definitely choose another path.
3. Focus on Friends
Attending a social skills group is a great way to meet new people and potentially make new friends. Shifting thinking to the possible positive outcomes and away from the negative can help to put your teen in the right frame of mind.
4. Small Steps to Achieve the Bigger Goal
If attending a trial group feels like too big of a step then break it down into smaller steps. Here are some smaller steps that have worked for teens who attend Simply Social Kids:
Drive to the parking lot and then go back home.
Drive the parking lot while we are closed and peek in the windows.
Come visit the center when only the coach is there and no other teens. (For these first three suggestions, grabbing an ice cream on the way home can also help.)
Visit our social media accounts so your teen can see photos of the coaches and coach assistants (we certainly hope we’re not scary looking!). They will also see images of teens hanging out and having a great time.
Schedule a Zoom meeting with the coach so your teen can meet her and chat about what to expect.
Suggest that your teen attend for only part of the group and not commit to the whole hour.
Teens don’t usually attend with a parent, but if he or she needs you to come into the building with them, then we will accommodate their request.
5. Teens Need 15 Seconds of Bravery
Getting in the door for the trial group is the hardest part for teens. They need about 15 seconds of bravery to take that step. Framing it in this way for teens can be enough for them to feel like they can do it.
6. Don’t Shame or Yell
We understand the frustration that parents might feel when their teen won’t try something new, but this is not recommended. Parents can get anxious too and might resort to shame or yelling because they just don’t know what else to do. Please give the steps listed above a try instead.
Anxiety can be managed if you can help your teen to know as much as possible about the group before the trial day. Understanding and empathy go a very long way in helping teens to feel seen, heard and understood. Rest assured, once they do attend a trial group, we’ll take it from there. We will get them engaged in an easy game, perhaps have another friendly teen show them around, and begin to build the connections that are needed to have your teen begin to feel comfortable. If their anxiety is extreme, one trial group might not be enough to obtain their buy-in. Our enrollment is month-to-month so teens can attend without a long term commitment.
The teens who have done any, or all, of the above steps and have attended a trial, have enjoyed their experience. We have many teens who were extremely anxious to try a group and are now making friends and having a great time each week.
Let’s work together to see if we can give your teen the tools and bravery it takes to make the first step.
If your child/teen/young adult needs coaching to help them make friends, contact us to schedule a trial https://calendly.com/simplysocialkids/30min or find out more about our weekly programs by contacting us at 978-764-2758 or firstname.lastname@example.org.