When Donna and I work with kids we have the opportunity to see them interact with their peers in a natural, unstructured environment. We see how some kids try very hard to impress the other kids and make friends. In a very short time, we can see why he or she has come to us. When we spend several months with a child, we are able to observe and note how he or she has mastered the skills we are teaching. I find it helpful to tell a child what I have noticed about him or her (if the timing is right).
For example, I work with a 15 year old teen boy who, when uncomfortable, will try to make a good impression by telling a lot of jokes. He’s a pretty funny kid so this isn’t a bad strategy, other than his jokes are not as funny and are too constant when he’s nervous. He ends up trying so hard to make that immediate, lasting impression that it can be cringe-worthy to watch. Once he becomes calmer and feels accepted by his peers, he relaxes and shows his true self. He shows us his serious side, his contemplative side, and his appropriate and well-timed funny side.
I wanted him to understand how he comes across when he meets new people so that he would know to tone it down and allow his true self to shine through sooner. We never want a child to feel criticized in a negative sense, so I did what we call a Kind Observation.
Me: “I noticed something about you.”
Him: “You did?”
Me: “I notice that you seem really comfortable in the group now that you’ve made some really good friends here. I also notice that when you first meet someone, you tell a lot of jokes and try hard to make that person laugh.”
Him: “Yes. I want to make a good impression. I want people to like me.” His tone has a slight robotic quality when he speaks.
Me: “Sure, I totally get that, but it seems that the kids here really like this other side of you. The one that is a little more serious, kind, interesting AND funny. You have so much more to share than just your funny side. Maybe try sharing all of those sides of your true self when you first meet someone instead of trying to make a big first impression with humor? I mean the “true” you is certainly working for you among the friends you’ve made here. What do you think?”
The boy who rarely makes eye contact stared into mine for the whole conversation. Then he took off his glasses, moved them away from his eyes giving the best Roger-Rabbit-arooga-bulgy look and said, “I can do that.” And he walked away, leaving me laughing.