As we continue our month-long dive into the different parts of wellness, what little things you can do for you, and for your family, this week I look at social wellness.
What is social wellness? There is no one definitive cookie-cutter answer to what this should look like for every individual. Each person has their own degree of need of socialness, for interaction with others, for connections, as well as for their preferred mode of communications. It is important to know what this should ideally look like for yourself; it will most likely be different than what your partner wants/needs or what your kids would like. Social well-being includes one’s ability to make friends as well their sense of belonging, feeling to be a part of a community, and spending time with others who are like-minded and supportive. It might include those close friends you can count on for kid-schlepping or ear-bending. What does ‘social wellness’ look like to you? Do you like to be busy and surrounded by friends? Do you prefer one or two close confidants? You know you best; you know what you need best. Balance what you need with what you HAVE to do; work- or family-related social obligations are also something to consider when you look at what you are putting on your social calendar.
What can we do, what can we say to help you really develop this realm of your wellness? Yours and your kids’? This week, 5 simple things you can do for yourself that will make a big improvement in your social wellness. And most of them are free!
1. Take an honest look at yourself when you are with the people you spend the most time with (this could be your family, or your friends). Make an honest assessment of yourself while you are with these key people: do you like who you are? Do you like how you behave and treat people? Do you smile and laugh genuinely? Are you your honest best self when you are with your friends? If you can't say unequivocally 'yes' then do you think you can say good-bye to these people who are not allowing you to be your true self? It might be in your best interest to do so.
2. Are you spending as much time as you'd like with your family? With your friends? Do you feel like your social bucket is filled? Or over-flowing? How can you tell? This is such a hard question for everyone to answer; but the only person who can answer it for you is you. Do you feel happy when you have time with your friends? Is it enough?
3. Join a club. I know, cringe! But hear me out: joining a group of individuals who come together to do an activity together (e.g. read a book and discuss it, sew or quilt, scrapbook, paint, whatever) is a great way to meet new people. Will you click with everyone? Absolutely not. But chances are really good that you will meet at least one interesting new person. Overseas, we have a number of groups that are organized who get together monthly to discuss different country-specific topics and also do charitable work. These are a great way to meet new people and do some good at the same time.
4. Say hi to a stranger. Strike up a conversation. I know, sometimes this can really backfire, but for the most part, the people you see waiting for the bus, enjoying their coffee, browsing at the store for (insert item here) are interesting people with interesting lives. Say hi. Smile. The older we get, the more I am sure of two things: first, your level of self-confidence is up, and you hopefully aren't feeling teenage-level angst when approaching new people; you know to just be yourself and that is a good thing. second, people just want to be treated with respect and kindness.
5. Encourage Prodependence. Just say no: When a relationship has done south, has started to wither, or is just not fitting right any longer, say no. If you have a friend who is constantly whining, negative or you feel might be using you for their own needs, just say no. Encourage positive behavior in your friendships, in your relationship, and don't enable the negative. You are you, and have confidence in knowing that you don't need to stick in a relationship wherein you feel as though you are being pushed towards negative behaviors or responses. Your relationships should bring you happiness, and peace of mind. You should feel better, buoyed, happy, after spending time with a friend or loved one.
For your family:
1. We Foreign Service families move often. This can be a problem for our kids who don't tend to be socially flexible, and react positively to new social situations or challenges. Your kids might suffer from social challenges that they don't want to bring to your attention because you are dealing with other stressors from moving and relocating. When was the last time you had an honest-no-devices-allowed conversation about how they are feeling with their friends and school situation? Do they know how to say no to peer pressure they don't like? Do they know how to walk up to an unknown person and ask to join in a game? I bet they will hem and haw for a little bit but then, when they open up, they will appreciate your inputs. It sounds super hokey, but give them the chance to role play some of the more confusing or complicated situations (e.g. saying no to a friend who wants to do something risky; telling a bully to stop their mean behavior; offer support to someone going through a tough time; meeting new people; etc); these interactions are confusing to adults so you can imagine kids might feel even more at a loss when confronted with one of these social challenges.
2. Help your kids learn to think about their behaviors. Is my social influence pushing me towards decisions I am not 100% happy with? Help your kids to develop the habit of asking themselves 'Would I do this if mom were here?' Okay, okay, there are probably a number of things they might like to do better if mom weren't there, but the reason why this question is important is because sometimes peer pressure or group mentality push kids (even adults) to do things that are either not very wise, or have a negative impact on another person or the environment, or, worse, themselves. Taking that moment to pause and really think about the consequences of their actions - or what they would feel like if their mom knew - helps them to not just flow into a bad/mean/negative action just because their friends are doing it. The thing is: as our kids get older, they start experimenting with their social self, and who they are amongst their friends is (in their eyes) very very important. They are confident and secure in your love for them; they are not so confident in how their friends and the rest of their social sphere view them.
3. Help your kids understand that being a bully is not cool. Bullies are not fun people. Being mean to others, belittling them, making them feel badly about themselves ... none of these things are okay or cool. None of these things are acceptable. It is not okay in person, through tech, or any other way. Bullies are sad people, who pull others down to have company on their level. They are unhappy, probably have social and/or family issues, and they are mean to others as a poor attempt to somehow make themselves feel or look better. What is cool is sticking up for others. It is 100% better to be known as the kid that sticks up for others than to be the one that they talk about being mean.
4. One can never have too many friends. Period. Be nice to the new kid; it is most likely not their choice to be the new kid, and almost guaranteed they have redeeming qualities. Include the difficult kid in the games; they want to play, too. If there are kids who have difficulty with English language skills, forgot their lunches, didn't bring their towel on swimming day ... extend the offer to help them out somehow. I repeat: one can never have too many friends.
5. How many times have you talked to your kid about being a good winner? Sports are a regular part of our kids’ lives, some more so than others. Being on a sports team is so beneficial for your kids: any regular exercise is a huge boon, the team-mentality is a plus and this helps your child to develop a bond with another (hopefully beneficial) adult in their lives. I have seen some horrible examples of what being a poor winner looks like. I know, not everyone can or should walk away with a ribbon; I am not advocating for celebrating mediocrity. But there is also no call for being a poor winner; running around the field whooping after a goal, creating a spectacle of a 'touchdown dance', being a general pest about a final score weeks later ... it isn't necessary and all it does is foster ill-will. Playing fair, playing by the rules, respecting the other team and the decisions of the officials, encouraging teammates, and ending with a handshake all go towards having good sportsmanship. If you win, don't rub it in. If you lose, don't make excuses. Do your best, and hope that everyone else will as well.
So. These are simple suggestions. None of these are novel or nouveau. None of these are life changing alone; together, though, they can make a positive impact on your and your family’s social health. Next week, more suggestions for another of the areas of Wellness.