"Try telling him it's a non-optional social convention."
—Sheldon's friend, Howard
Nicole Fornabaio/Rd.com, shutterstockThe Big Bang Theory is a sitcom about a group of nerdy scientists and the social challenges they face as they try to navigate the world. There's a lot of speculation by fans that one of the main characters, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, is on the autism spectrum. He clearly has trouble with social skills, and isn't a flexible thinker. He also doesn't read social cues well and often says things without thinking about the impact on other people.
In one episode, Sheldon doesn't understand why he should buy a birthday present for his friend, Leonard. From Sheldon's point of view, Leonard doesn't need anything and hasn't said he wants anything, so it doesn't make sense to get him anything. After trying to explain gift-giving in multiple ways, Sheldon's friends tell him it's a "non-optional social convention," which finally convinces him.
The lesson: "No matter how many times you explain the reasons behind a social rule, it may not make sense to some kids," says educator Amanda Morin. That's especially true for children with social skills issues. It's important for your child to know the"why" behind a rule. But sometimes it's enough for him to know that some things are "non-optional social conventions"—you do them whether it makes sense to you or not.
"Actually, I had him tested as a child. Doctor says he's fine. Although, I do regret not following up with that specialist in Houston."
Nicole Fornabaio/Rd.com, shutterstockOn Big Bang Theory, people often have trouble making sense of Sheldon's behavior. He always tells people, "I'm not crazy—my mother had me tested." This generates a lot of laughs on the show, but it also offers an important lesson.
The lesson: When a child struggles with social situations or in school, some may say it's a "behavior issue" or he's a "brat." Others may say the child is "too smart" to have any issues. However, if you feel something more is going on, Morin says it's important to trust your gut and see a specialist for an evaluation. The better you know your child's challenges, the better you'll be able to get him any help or support he needs.
"It occurred to me you hadn't returned any of my calls because I hadn't offered any concrete suggestions for pursuing our friendship."
Nicole Fornabaio/Rd.com, shutterstockIn a memorable episode, Sheldon literally maps out a step-by-step "algorithm" for making new friends. The algorithm includes a decision loop that tells him when he needs to compromise and do something the other person wants to do.
The lesson: "Many kids need direct coaching on how to connect with other kids and make friends," says Morin. They may have a hard time learning to compromise and understand that friendship is a give and take. While a friendship "algorithm" is likely too much, it can help to set aside time to teach your child ways to make friends. You can't always expect him to pick these skills up on his own.
"I have spent my whole life trying to bring order to the universe by carefully planning every moment of every day."
Nicole Fornabaio/Rd.com, shutterstockWhen Sheldon's regular barber is hospitalized, Sheldon refuses to get a haircut for days. In this quote, he explains why to his confused friends.
The lesson: Kids loves routine. Sometimes, it's not because of stubbornness—it's because of anxiety about the unknown.
When you need to break your child's routine, let him know how things will be different. Give him as much choice as you can to help ease the anxiety. Talk through with him why things change. Over time, your child's schedule and need for routine will become more flexible. And you'll be able to avoid meltdowns. This is a good lesson for parents too, because with kids, not everything can be planned.
"Leonard, I am overwhelmed. Everything is changing and it's simply too much. I need to get away and think."
Nicole Fornabaio/Rd.com, shutterstockAfter Sheldon's favorite comic book store burns down, his girlfriend breaks up with him and his roommate Leonard says he may be moving out, Leonard asks Sheldon how he can help. Sheldon says he just needs space.
The lesson: As parents, our first instinct is to want to swoop in and fix everything for our kids. But we can't always do that. We also can't expect our kids to be able to recover quickly from tough situations, especially when they're overwhelmed.
What we can do, Morin says, is respect our kids' need for space, while being available to them when—or if—they're ready to talk. It's a humbling lesson to learn as a parent.
Like The Big Bang Theory? Learn how watching TV with your child can help improve his social skills. Also, check out 46 quotes from iconic TV shows and films.