There is no question that team sports are amazing for the mind and body. So many important social skills are taught through working as a team and exercising the body.
Additionally, friendships typically grow stronger by participating in sports outside of school. Because of this, young kids (especially boys) are traditionally signed up for the usual round of team sports – soccer, basketball and baseball. These are great, but let’s face it, these activities are just not for everyone. Some kids are not coordinated, interested or secure enough to feel comfortable and successful playing team sports.
So what can these non-sporty kids do that will help them socially? Here are four very common and easy-to-find activities that will enable kids who have social difficulties to get involved in activities outside of school and family and into new-but-safe territory with their peers.
Tae Kwon Do/Karate
Focus, self-discipline, attention to detail, confidence, humility and kindness are emphasized in these sports. Martial arts are great for helping kids follow directions and develop a great sense of self-control. Additionally, the color belt system is clear, predictable and consistently rewarding. In these martial arts classes, students are working independently, yet as part of the class. If one child is a bit behind, it will not throw the others off (and cause frustration with the other students). Tae Kwon Do centers typically work to develop a community and family atmosphere with their students, so the students do get to know each other well.
Students in these classes learn valuable tech skills and meet other kids with the same passion for computer development and games. Bonding over digital media can be a great catalyst for a friendship. One pitfall is if the computer is the only thing your child and his friend have in common. Even though many video games can be social and develop critical-thinking skills, because the child is still focused on the screen and not the person, things such as eye contact, body language and voice volume (how many kids scream at the games they play?!) are not developed. Take the kids out for ice cream afterward so they can talk face-to-face about what they did in class.
Swimming is often one of those non-negotiable activities that parents enroll their kids in – and with good reason. Although swim lessons are not social, not knowing how to swim will surely eliminate many summertime social opportunities. And kids who go on to join a swim team have additional opportunities to connect.
These organizations can be perfect for kids who need a little extra attention because they typically start out with mandatory parent involvement. Parents can get involved and help a child who needs a little prompting or nudging without seeming like they are hovering. There is no competition with these groups, and the Scout ranking system and merit badge system are clear and self-paced. Of course, getting the child outside to exercise and enjoy nature is also a huge win!
Diana Cortese, who is pictured at left with her son Astor, is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and founder of South Bay Kids Connection, an organization that helps children increase their social skills through non-competitive, cooperative play.