“I want my adolescent to improve his social skills. Can we please schedule an appointment?” I receive this type of request about 5 times a week from parents, seeking a solution for their child. While I might receive bold inquiries from parents, I receive more subtle requests from my adults; adults will admit the desire to learn skills once in the office, but rarely over the phone.
Once we have that appointment scheduled, things go one of two ways: the adolescent will either acknowledge that they want more skills, or anxiety gets the better of them.
In contrast, my adults have often read all the books available and desperation strikes – landing them in my office. The parents have often read all the books, but their adolescents refuse to read the books.
Are my adolescents unmotivated, or scared? I’m going with scared. My adolescents seem pretty darn lonely and want friends, but also seem scared senseless when we talk about making new friends, or expanding their social network.
Anxiety + social skills concerns + the pressure of talking to a stranger (the therapist) can be too much! Fortunately, Daniel Wendler’s book Improve Your Social Skills is a valuable source of information, available in an actual book or on your Kindle. You could read the book before you meet with your therapist!
Wendler has quite a bit to say on the topic of social skills: why social anxiety can be reduced to physical anxiety (no actual threat!), the implication of a social faux pas (often minimal!), how to read non-verbal messages, how to monitor your own non-verbal messages (perhaps my favorite section!), and the art of conversation.
My crew: listen up! Wendler offers tips on how to enter a group of people and join the conversation. So many of you have asked me this exact question!
- “How do I enter a group?”
- “How do I join a group?”
- “I want to be friends with that group – what should I do?”
- “I want to sit at THAT table at lunch – how do I do that?”
- Turn to page 62 and follow his directions! Then go back and read the rest of the book! You have time before school starts!
Wendler writes from his own experiences, acknowledging his own social struggles, identifying the solutions, and gently invites you to assess your own situation and make some subtle/consistent changes. He gives examples of common mistakes, simple solutions, and writes in a way that both acknowledges anxieties, and then suggests letting the anxiety go.
Finally, Wendler is very clear that the end goal is genuine relationships, not relationships based on behavioral manipulation or attempting to influence people for personal gain. The question of manipulation comes up in my office regularly. Wendler demonstrates that it is possible to have genuine relationships with others without either partner being manipulated.
Read the book. Try Wendler’s ideas. Let me know how it goes.