Learning the Unwritten Social Rules

Updated: Sep 7



Social Cues: Unwritten Social Rules

Ever since she was tiny, Sarit had been the sort of girl that other people found it hard to relate to. Not understanding social rules, she always said exactly what she thought.  Even when that meant insulting someone else or telling them they were completely wrong. She never intended to hurt or annoy anybody. But she didn’t understand the unwritten rules, the social cues of how to deal with other people.  She managed to alienate her peers anyway.

Ignored and overlooked

When she was little, Sarit would interrupt people all the time, including her teachers at elementary school. She eventually learned to stop interrupting.  But,  she chose to simply remain silent instead- and so ended up getting ignored and overlooked.

Sarit was an only child, so she didn’t even have the opportunity to practice social skills with her siblings. There were no interactions that would help her understand what it meant to fight and then make up with someone around her age on a regular basis. Sarit’s parents didn’t get along too well either. There was always a lot of tension in the house. Sarit usually stayed out the way and did her own thing as much as possible.

Making Aliyah

When Sarit was 13, her parents decided to make aliyah. Sarit’s father was a successful consultant.  He planned to continue his practice in New Jersey, spending a 10 day stretch there every month. The family settled in Tel Aviv to be close to the airport. However, Sarit’s mother wasn’t happy in Tel Aviv, and so just one year later, they all moved to Modiin.

The marriage, always under strain, buckled after this second move.  Sarit and her mother moved one final time to Jerusalem.  Leaving her father to return to New Jersey with occasional trips to Israel. Newly single and in a new city in a new country, Sarit’s mother struggled to orient herself. She found a job in a hotel, but had to put in long hours and didn’t enjoy the work. Sarit was an isolated teenager doing her best to adapt to her very different life in Israel. She had no patience for her mother’s problems and they argued endlessly. 

Sarit’s teacher recommends Kav L’Noar

One of Sarit’s teachers took an interest in her and tried to draw her out of her shell. When she didn’t have any luck, she persuaded Sarit’s mother to take her to Kav L’Noar. After a specialist intake session with a therapist, Kav L’Noar decided that Sarit would benefit from a mentor. Kav L’Noar knew that Sarit would need someone particularly kind, positive and patient, and assigned her to a mentor called Ayala who had all those qualities.  

Sarit and her mentor Ayala

Ayala had been fully briefed about what to expect. Sure enough, she found Sarit to be very quiet, defensive, and in what seemed to be a permanent bad mood. However, she wasn’t put off at all and set up activities for them to do together so that Sarit wouldn’t feel under pressure to talk or feel under the microscope. They played card games and board games, watched YouTube videos, and ran errands together.  From time to time, Ayala would come up with more exciting things to do, like when they borrowed a telescope and went out stargazing late one night. Throughout this period, Ayala was always very open, sharing her thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and responding warmly whenever Sarit responded in kind. 

As the months went by

As the months went by, Sarit began to open up, initiate conversations and activities, and really connect with Ayala. Although Ayala continued to receive guidance from her supervisor at Kav L’Noar on how to work most effectively with Sarit, the bond between them was natural and genuine. Two years of weekly meetings passed, and Sarit related to Ayala like a big sister. She had developed very significantly, and gained a great deal of self-confidence.

Ayala had very gently given Sarit some insights about social rules.  They went over where Sarit might have been going wrong in social settings.  She showed her that changing things didn’t require changing personality, but it did require learning how to read social cues and how to avoid certain common social landmines. Sarit had practiced, first with Ayala and then at school, and felt empowered as by her new skills. She slowly learned social rules.

Ending the mentoring relationship

Sarit and Ayala both wanted to continue for a third year. However, the Kav L’Noar supervisor was in favor of ending the mentoring relationship in order to allow Sarit to be more independent. It wasn’t easy for either Sarit or Ayala to say goodbye, but it was an important and healthy process to go through. Ayala said that she would always be there for Sarit if she needed to talk or even meet up. Sarit learned that the bond that she had built with Ayala would not be broken just because their work together was ending. It would always live inside her, and be a reference point for the new, healthy relationships which she would build in the future.  


*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality. Picture is for illustrative purposes only.

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