- Look at teaching children how to control and navigate their environments through the control of their audience.
- Teach your child how to interact differently with different people.
- Make your child use more complex language to express their wants and needs.
Social interactions are really hard. Talking to someone else is riddled with unspoken rules and regulations. How close should I be? How loud do I need to speak? Is what I am saying relevant? These are hard boundaries for kids (and who am I kidding – some adults too) to navigate.
When I first started working with kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, I vividly remember teaching kids to introduce themselves, as if they were little adults. They would be on the playground and they would walk up to another child and say things like, “Hello. My name is Jon. What is your name?”. It was very programmed and unnatural. It made me feel uncomfortable for the child. The other child would sort of look and not know how to respond to such a strange behavior.
When I had my own children, I watched feverishly how they interacted with other children. They never introduced themselves before they started playing! That is a grown up behavior. It was at that point that I socially verified my suspicions! I was no longer going to teach that skill in that manner. I began to analyze and think more and more about social interactions and how they are taught. I thought about what behaviors are included in those interactions.
If you were to do a quick google search you would get hundreds of hits about social interactions and their benefits. The problem I find with that is that none of those hits really define what social interactions are and the components of those behaviors. There is a reason for that! At every age, situation and turn, those components change.
The one thing that does not change is audience control. So in my work, and in my life, I look at teaching children, adolescents and adults how to control and navigate their environments through the control of their audience.
Social interactions are reliant on having an audience. Thus, having the intended effect on that audience is vital in having a successful interaction.
But, let’s back up a step… what the heck is audience control? Well, an audience is operationally defined by Cooper, Heron and Heward (1987) as “anyone who functions as a discriminative stimulus evoking verbal behavior. Different audiences may control different verbal behavior about the same topic because of a differential reinforcement history.” That’s a mouthful and a half. Let’s break this down a little…
“Anyone who functions as a discriminative stimulus evoking verbal behavior.” This is a key component to social interactions. In order to have an interaction there must be another person present. This person can be in a face to face interaction or through a reader-writer exchange or on the phone, etc. But we all agree that there needs to be another person. This other person must act as a receiver of what the initial person wants to say/do within the environment (thus the discriminative stimulus evoking the behavior).
In other words, there must be a listener for us to interact within a social way for an interaction to occur.
“Different audiences may control different verbal behavior about the same topic because of a differential reinforcement history.” The relationship between the participants in the interaction dictates how the interaction will occur. For example, teens may describe the same event in different ways when talking to peers versus their parents. The parents present a different audience.
Ok, so who cares about that??? It matters because when you do not know the audience you are trying to talk to, you cannot have a successful interaction. Personal, professional, formal, or casual, all of these things influence what you say and how you say it. They also influence how you act in certain situations! Take my initial example about the introduction on the playground. This behavior and use of language (while fantastic for my clients to use language) were not appropriate for the audience. The other children did not know what to do with that behavior. But, other adults would respond when the child introduced him/herself. Different audience, different expectations!
Knowing how to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk” is audience control. Knowing how to talk to the people you are talking to matters.
So, teach your children how to:
Interact differently with different people! Make sure that they talk differently with adults and peers (it is normal!). As they get older, make them use more complex language to express their wants and needs. Do not give into to every request or desire, it sets up faulty audience control for them.
Remember that not everyone will be the same audience for your children! You’ve got this!