Why I teach my son to do a “social fake”

My son Austin (like many of the kids I work with) has no interest in sports.  Monday morning before he left for school I gave him this advice:

People are going to be happy today about the Eagles winning the Super Bowl, this is a really big deal.  If anyone asks you if you watched the game or makes a comment about it you need to smile, look friendly and say “I was watching other stuff on TV but it’s cool that they won.  My neighbors woke me up with fireworks”.

As I have explained to him before and continue to reinforce with him-people make small talk around sports to be friendly, particularly other males.   It is your responsibility to show your friendly by responding to them in a way that will appear friendly, even if you’re not really interested in what they’re talking about.  This is called doing a “social fake” meaning you fake your interest for the sake of others and respond in a way that validates the persons emotions.

Teaching human relatedness through responding to others experiences and emotions is critical to learning how to be relatable to others.  Being relatable is what helps other’s feel comfortable and motivates them to take an interest in us. Teaching “social skills” without teaching how to relate to other’s emotions and experiences is essentially teaching scripted social behaviors.

Teaching how to do a “social fake” is an amalgamation of various social thinking skills including:

Perspective Taking: We think about other’s thoughts/feelings and what they need from us in social communication. If someone tells us something sad, they expect us to respond with some degree of empathy.  If someone tells us something enthusiastically they expect us to respond with a level of interest or excitement.

Showing an interest in others:  Many kids with social learning challenges such as ADHD and particularly Asperger’s and higher-verbal autism lack a natural curiosity about others thus they often do not express an interest in others.  Teaching them to show an interest in similar-age peers teaches them reciprocity in relationships and emphasizes that they are accountable to their peers in social communication.

Listening to others:  Many kids with social learning challenges are what Michelle Garcia Winner, the creator of Social Thinking refers to as “information informers” meaning they like to share their vast knowledge about their interests and want others to listen to them yet they rarely listen to others when the topic of conversation is not within the realm of their restricted interests.

Teaching how to do a “social fake” also includes sometimes lying for the sake of keeping others comfortable.  For example, you have probably taught your child that if they receive a present they don’t like they should say they do like it because we would not want to hurt the feelings of the person who gave the present. 

How you can help your child learn how to improve their relatability to others:

  1. Teach contexts in which you expect them to do a social fake and what they should both look and sound like when they do a social fake. As an example:

Tonight, we’re going to Aunt Sue’s house.  There may be something for dinner than you don’t like.  If she askes you if you like dinner you should say “Yes, it’s good”.  You should smile when you say this to her.  If she asks you why you didn’t eat more, you can say “I ate a lot today”.  It’s O.K. to not be truthful because you don’t want to hurt her feelings and you want to show that you appreciate her inviting you over.

  1. Help them to understand age-appropriate responses to when people share information with them. This is of critical importance because much social skills instruction teaches social communication skills that are overly formal and not organic to the ways kids relate to each other.  As an example:  When you get to school today you can ask Josh what he got for his birthday.  When he tells you can respond by saying “that’s cool” and ask him a few questions about one of the gifts he mentions.

We form relationships with others because they show an interest in us, we feel comfortable with them because we find them relatable and because there is a level of fluency in our spontaneous conversations.   If you consistently focus on teaching relatability your child will be on the path to cultivating friendships organically.

Learn more about how we teach social thinking skills at our website: www.centeradhd.com

Learn about Social Thinking at their website: www.socialthinking.com  

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