The good news is that sometimes your son or daughter will make friends with little or no help from you; people will like them and want to be with them for who they are. At other times, you may need to give a little more support and assistance.
How can I help my son or daughter develop their own friendships?
Like any child, your son or daughter will need opportunities to practice their social skills and learn from others. It will help them if you make sure that they have the chance to meet with the same people over a period of time (e.g. relatives, neighbours, family friends, and friends at pre-school or primary school). Giving your child choices about who they want to see and where is important too. Encourage and support your child’s interests and skills; shared interests can be a good basis for making friends. Children with Down’s syndrome really benefit from having friends who also have Down’s syndrome and also friends who are typically developing; having a foot in both camps. Children with Down’s syndrome are very good at learning by watching but they may not always take on board the finer points of making friends. You may have to help your child to understand that relationships take time and are about give and take. This doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated; it can just be fun! Take one thing at a time, step by step.
Pick a social skill you would like to teach your child (e.g. taking turns, sharing, manners, greetings, recognising feelings in self and others). Then follow these steps:
- Tell them why this skill is important
- Break the skill down into easy small steps
- Show them the skill in action
- Practice the skill in the safety of your own home
- Give your child positive feedback and praise; correct them gently if necessary
- Launch! Practice the skill in public
Social stories, modelling appropriate behaviour, filming you and your child performing social skills and playing it back to them are all useful teaching tools.
Teaching Children with Down syndrome about their Bodies, Boundaries, and Sexuality – A Guide for Parents and Professionals by Terri Couwenhoven (available to purchase online)