Making Friends

A New Way to Sharpen Social Skills

Forget lectures. Tell a fun fable to help your child grasp important lessons on friendship.

Mom reads story to two sons with ADHD in diner
Mom reads story to two sons with ADHD in diner

Parents don’t have to lecture and torture their children to teach them how to improve social skills. I use an approach that’s a lot more fun than shouting “How many times have I told you?”

It’s a game called Family Fable Time. Here’s how it works: Mom, Dad, or a child chooses a behavior that he or she wants to tell a story about. The story can be about characters who exhibit an inappropriate behavior — teasing, cheating, making fun of someone — or those who have good social skills: saying thank you when a friend passes the ketchup. The key is that every story ends with “And so it was learned.”

I told the first fable to a mother and her seven-year-old son in my office to show them how it works. “Once there was a boy named ZooZoo Lampclock, who loved to win games. ZooZoo played checkers with his sister Barbara. Their dad said that whoever wins picks the restaurant for dinner that evening. After 10 minutes, ZooZoo beat his sister, but started laughing at her for losing. When his dad saw ZooZoo making fun of his sister, he said, ‘The prize goes to Barbara. She gets to choose the restaurant. The reward is for the player who is the best sport, even when she doesn’t win.’ And so it was learned: Sometimes winning the game doesn’t get you the prize, but behaving like a good sport does.”

Lessons Learned

One family used animals as the main characters, which was a hit with the kids. Another family changed the format of the fable to guessing the lesson of the story.

The following story helped a client’s daughter take others’ feelings into account. “Once upon a time, a frog named Jumpy went to visit his friend Buster, a beaver. Buster was building a dam. ‘Want to have some fun?’ Jumpy asked. ‘I can’t. I have to finish this.’ Jumpy felt rejected and had some fun anyway. He tried to jump over the stream, but landed on Buster’s dam and broke it. Buster was furious. Jumpy said, ‘Sorry for being silly.’ Buster forgave him, and they fixed the dam. And so it was learned: Don’t be silly at the wrong times.”

Fable-telling is a lot easier and more effective at teaching social skills than trying to browbeat a child into better behavior.