Looking for a social skills book for my adult-book-reading 7-year-old.
May 13, 2013 5:23 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to find a book for my little girl that goes into some of the unwritten social rules and give specific tips on how to interact with other kids in various situations (including difficult ones), and doesn't focus on pathologizing or fixing anything.

She would be most interested in a book that gives example dialogues, and would read a book written for older children or adults. (She stole and has just finished reading our book, "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen..." for what she just told me is this purpose).

The books I've looked at focus on social skills problems, however, and use phrases such as "social deficits" and "lacking social skills." I want to give her something that is an awesome, useful thing to learn, not something that tells her she needs to fix something about herself.

Thanks so much for your suggestions.
posted by Eolienne to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to look at Michelle Garcia Winner's line of materials. There are a wide range of books for a variety of ages. There are also some good books from Carol Gray (that focus on scripting social situations, which might be more than what your daughter needs, but they are very explicit and could be useful, in that "doing research" kind of way). She also has a line of children's books that explicitly talk about certain social skills (e.g. how and why it's important to "tell the truth and be honest", etc.) Also, Tony Attwood has some good books but they are aimed at clinicians and parents. He does have a long list of books from other authors, perhaps one of those would fit the bill?
posted by absquatulate at 5:31 PM on May 13, 2013

She might enjoy The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships. Temple Grandin is one of the authors and she's characterized her learning social rules as being like being "an anthropologist on Mars." This is her and Sean Barron's experience in observing and decoding all of the social rules we do without thinking, but are actually a little strange or interesting when you really stop to think about it.
posted by goggie at 5:34 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you get her a serious book, throw in Maurice Sendak's What Do You Say, Dear? My kids loved it. Even if she's a bit old for it, she'll like the illustrations.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:46 PM on May 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

There's a princess guidebook that goes along with the Princess Diaries series. I really enjoyed it. It's about manners, and offers perspectives from Mia (who's a feminist, unconventional princess), her grandma (who's a career royal who takes no shit from no one), and Mia's dad (who's alive in the book series, and is a 21st century royal).
posted by spunweb at 6:01 PM on May 13, 2013

Diary of a Social Detective is used in the social skills class that my child participates in. It is a fun and engaging read, featuring a kid who learns to read social cues and thus helps his peers address their interrelationship struggles.
posted by gubenuj at 6:29 PM on May 13, 2013

Your kids sounds great and congratulations on being so attuned to who she is. My first thought is that, even if she is an advanced reader, she is still only a little 7 year old, though. A lot of times kids with advanced vocabularies seem to understand more than they actually do when reading about things like the nuances of relationships (especially if she's your only or oldest, it's very, very easy to conflate verbal maturity with a kind of maturity there's no way anyone can have after 7 years on the planet.) And the way adults and teenagers interact with each other just don't necessarily translate perfectly into the ways that first graders interact with each other. So -- and of course you can toss this advice if it's not what you're looking for - but I don't think books for adults are really the way to go. For one thing, kids take things more literally or in different ways than we can often predict -- they don't get irony or nuance the same way adults do at age 7 no matter how bright they are. For those reasons, even if she is capable of technically understanding books about unwritten social norms aimed at adults, I would not buy them for a first or second grader. (I mean, no harm done if she comes upon "How to Talk..." or Temple Grandin on your bookshelf, but I really would be looking for books aimed at kids if you're planning on having her actually apply it to her own social situation.)
That said, I think it's great not to fall into the pathologizing genre when perhaps she just needs some skills and abilities to relate to kids her age. I think the American Girl "Friendship" books are OK. You'd have to look through 2 or 3 to see which one might be the best for her. These are even skewed a bit old for a 7 year old -- meant for ages 9 - 12 -- and in fact, that really can be a pretty big difference, in terms of social norms and expectations. A 12 year old portrayed in this book is not going to respond to her friend the way a child on your kid's playground will respond to your kid. But these books do have good messages about kindness and self-esteem and loyalty that you could discuss, and perhaps practice together in role playing with simpler terms more like what she'd really be dealing with in her own world.
posted by third rail at 7:55 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

How To Win Friends and Influence People. The title makes it sound like it's all machiavellian and strategic, but it's not AT ALL. It's all about being kind and respectful and making the people around you feel good.
posted by amaire at 8:21 PM on May 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks to all for your suggestions so far.

Third rail, thanks for pointing out that reading level doesn't equate to emotional maturity. My concern was that most books written for younger kids would be too simplistic, and wouldn't interest her or be very useful to her. I'd love to find something that speaks to her intelligently, at her (very young!) maturity level.

I want to emphasize for any future answerers: I would also love suggestions for books written for young children, and will grab one in a heartbeat if it suits.
posted by Eolienne at 8:30 PM on May 13, 2013

Just going to suggest self-help books. I definitely picked up self-help books from my parents' shelves as a kid. And, yes, it'd be worth my while to go back and re-read them now that i have a more-than-theoretical understanding of what all those emotional and relational words mean. But I still think it's useful to have an idea of, well, different ways to argue, or how to improve your 'emotional intelligence', or how to express yourself so that others get less defensive.

Then the thing to do is to read them yourself and, whichever ones seem useful and valuable to you, pass those on to her. I don't have specific examples, since all the books just blurred together in my head, but reading a dozen or so self-help 'fight fairly' and 'how to get along with other people' and 'improving your EQ' books as a kid definitely gave me a solid repertoire of techniques to try later on when I hit trouble. One of the nice things about that method is also that it just felt like part of 'learning adult knowledge' - adults read books to learn these things and so do I - rather than something wrong with me or even just 'childish'.
posted by Lady Li at 8:38 PM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Getting to yes" and "The mind and heart of the negotiator."
posted by Michele in California at 8:59 PM on May 13, 2013

Maybe she's a budding linguist, in which case Between Parent and Child and something by Deborah Tannen might interest her, or even a little verbal judo.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:19 PM on May 13, 2013

Oops! The Manners Guide for Girls by American Girl. It does not just deal with manners.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:47 PM on May 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's also Yikes: a Smart Girl's Guide to Tricky Situations, also from American Girl, which is more on how to handle problems (everything from bullies to someone wanting to copy your paper to being sick at school, if I recall correctly).
posted by Violet Hour at 12:10 AM on May 14, 2013

Are there any social situations you can put her in so she can learn by doing rather than learn by reading? Even if she is just an observer rather than a participant, it would seem that first hand observation of social situations would be more a more concrete learning opportunity than a book, and if she needs an adult coach to help her interpret what's going on, presumably you could arrange for that to happen.
posted by Dansaman at 1:00 AM on May 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also read adult-level books when I was quite young. I read How to Make Friends and Influence People when I was around 8 or 9 and found it very interesting and helpful; some of the concepts have stuck with me for years!
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:58 AM on May 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

My experience was very similar to Lady Li's, and in fact her comment says nearly everything I would have written myself. My parents' bookshelves contained both self-help books that were possibly bought to work on their relationship and communication (I remember "You Just Don't Understand" by Deborah Tannen was one I liked) and textbooks for my dad's management courses and degree. I found them all interesting.

I do also remember reading books on body language at around the same time and finding them helpful and very interesting, as if I were learning a secret code. Well, this social interaction stuff IS a secret code to some of us, but the body language books presented it as something that even adults might not know.

Definitely try to read whatever books you get for her, and discuss them with her - this will quite likely be even more useful than the reading material, for both of you.

You are an awesome parent to do this for her, and she is a great kid for actively seeking out this knowledge. :)
posted by daisyk at 2:50 AM on May 14, 2013

I was obsessed with etiquette books from the time I was about her age until...well now! I know Emily Post seems silly, but what's amazing about etiquette is that it's social grease that keeps things moving smoothly. It's not just about what fork to use -- it's also about how to make someone comfortable in a difficult situation and a framework for dealing with awkward exchanges.
posted by itsamermaid at 5:45 PM on May 14, 2013

Asperger’s Rules! How to Make Sense of School and Friends, by Blythe Grossberg. I've only skimmed it so far but it looks good. It doesn't try to fix anything, or imply that people who need extra help deciphering social cues are inferior. She's a bit younger than the target audience but it doesn't sound like that'll be a problem.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:45 AM on May 15, 2013

Oh, not to imply that she has Asperger's, no more than her reading How To Make Friends and Influence People implies that she's in sales.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:46 AM on May 15, 2013

Just as a follow-up for future readers - How to Win Friends and Influence People is not about sales or written for salesmen.
posted by amaire at 1:28 PM on May 15, 2013

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