Q: [School-Aged] My fifth-grader is excited to participate in the school organized carnation-valentine fundraiser event, but I’m nervous. The flowers are sent anonymously and delivered to kids’ desks in the guise of a celebration of friendship, but I’m worried this could lead to rejection or disappointment.
A: This is a common school activity that kids have to learn to manage as a part of their social life. On the one hand, these events are fundraisers for a school group or school activity, and they bring in a lot of money all in the name of good, clean fun. But, on the other hand, these types of events can leave kids feeling unpopular, lonely, and disappointed that they did not receive an anonymous gift. When your kid is the one who didn’t get one, it can leave you feeling helpless in trying to talk to your child about what happened.
You must guide your child in learning how to deal with social challenges – which is how I categorize these types of school events. A social challenge, for the purposes of peer socialization, is a when a social situation challenges you to think about how others will be affected by the outcome. Ideas like social etiquette, peer interaction, and social understanding must be taken into account before deciding on a solution.
To break that down a bit further, three components in dealing with a social challenge:
Social etiquette comes from knowing what is socially acceptable in your culture and among your peers. You don’t teach this as much as you model what to do in a social situation, such as saying thank you when someone holds the door open for you.
Peer interaction is defined as things you say and do with others in your age group. A few examples of peer interactions for kids include texting, going to the movies, sharing clothes or music, or getting together to study. Learn about the types of activities your child enjoys doing with their peers and guide them on positive ways to enjoy these interactions.
Social understanding is knowing what to do in a particular social setting. This does not mean getting into the intricate details of a social interaction, but it means having a basic awareness of social exchanges such as what to do when someone waves at you or what to say when someone says, “Good morning.”
It sounds complicated, but we do this daily. But, for kids who are developing healthy social habits, social challenges can be scary and confusing without support.
Thus, for this specific social challenge, I would encourage you to walk your child through the three components by using a simple technique called, “The Hot Seat.” In this technique, have your child (or a proxy, like a doll or stuffed animal) sit in a chair and role-play the various scenarios that could occur during the school event. For example, you could ask your child (or the object) in “The Hot Seat” to list one thing that could happen if you don’t get a flower or card. You can both take turns in “The Hot Seat” answering or listing different outcomes. Use the time to make observations about your child’s answers. Two positives manifest from this technique: you get to learn more about how your child understands peer social interactions and you get to guide them on how to make more positive decisions rather than just lecturing them.
Mercedes Samudio, LCSW is an HB-based family/parent coach who has been helping families achieve results in parent-child bonding, decreasing power struggles, and developing effective discipline strategies to foster strong, nurturing relationships. Read more about her parenting philosophy at shameproofparenting.com.