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Think of yourself as your son's advocate, and help others to understand his situation: "Jason has a hard time using his words. We're working hard on his speech, and he's making good progress, but it's still frustrating for him when he can't communicate his thoughts and feelings, so sometimes he acts out." Be sure to say this without anger or defensiveness. If you're calm and respectful, other parents are more likely to be sensitive to your son's needs.
To support your child in social situations, you need to be his voice -- both with other kids and when dealing with adults. Think about connecting with another family that has a mature, socially skilled child who may be a little older than your son but will be patient with him. Then invite mom and child over (bribe them with lunch if you have to!). Engage your son in a favorite activity, and then invite his new playmate to join in. Watch carefully, though, and give voice to what you suspect your son may be thinking -- for example, "I think Jason's telling you he wants to share the crayons you're using." Stay involved and don't leave the children to play on their own, at least for the first few visits. And give your son a break from time to time, offering the kids a snack or suggesting you all go on a walk together.
If your child does act aggressively, it's important that you respond swiftly and clearly while also being sensitive to his challenges: "You didn't like that Joey took the pirate hat away from you when it was time for his turn. But it's not okay to grab. Let's see if we can work out a way to share the hat fairly." This response shows your son how to manage his emotions, and it reassures other parents that you're handling the situation.
Copyright 2008. Used with permission from the January 2008 issue of American Baby magazine. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.