One of the most heartbreaking things is seeing your child with ADHD rejected by their peers.
No invites to play dates or birthday parties. And how many times over this Summer was your child out with friends? Mmm. Not many I’m guessing.
As a parent this is hugely difficult to stand by and watch. The outcome for your child is frustration and despair. Which in turn, becomes demanding and challenging behaviour at home. All behaviour is a form of communication. And rude, willful, aggressive behaviour may be your child trying to express his confusion that he feels lonely and isolated.
WHY DOES YOUR CHILD WITH ADHD FIND IT SO DIFFICULT TO MAKE FRIENDS?
🏃 For the peers, your child can be just a little too much. His sense of humour is louder and quirkier. Maybe he talks quickly and jumps about from subject to subject. Never finishing a thought or idea before leaping onto the next. Nothing gets finished. For a child, being with someone who is so full-on can be somewhat overwhelming.
🏃 Your child may actually be about 3 years lagging behind his calendar age. Emotionally he may be immature. Whilst your child’s peers may be moving on with their interests, your child may still be enjoying playing chase in the playground. Your child may not have the emotional intelligence to match conversations or feelings of his peers and there may be many social blunders.
🏃 Your child has hyperfocus and seems to get fixated on one thing. Whether its Disney princesses or looking for worms, your child will focus all his attention on this one interest for perhaps months on end. This can be dull or boring for his peers who will leave and move onto something more interesting for them. Another difficulty is that your child will be so focussed on what interests him, he will be unaware of his friend’s needs. So your child is not aware that he always has to goes first or doesn’t take turns easily.
🏃 Due to your child being in a classroom and probably not having all his needs met, he will no doubt be called out many times by the class teacher. He will soon get a reputation as being naughty. And there are not many children who will want to associate with the naughty child. Of course, this in turn will make your child angry and there we have a self-fulfilling prophecy!
🏃 Your child will have a poor working memory which means that information he has been told just doesn’t stay in place and then he cannot adapt his behaviour. This will impact on friendships. How frustrating for a peer that it seems he has not been listened to. For a young child this might seem like they’ve been deliberately ignored.
SO HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR CHILD MAKE FRIENDS?
👩❤️👩 You have to specifically teach social skills. Give your child a script if necessary what to say. He may want to repeat back an instruction to aid working memory. Or use an app or list to remember important things.
Play games at home and practice turn taking. Practice letting other people go first and playing games that are not his choice. Have a reciprocal conversation to actively practice listening and responding.
There may be a social skills group that he could join run by a local charity or organisation. Sometimes an older friend of the family can be a great mentor that your child may like to spend time with and learn from. Role play scenarios that your child may have trouble with. For example, bullying or teasing.
You could also try making a social story which is a story involving your child and written in the first person. The script will describe the behaviour you want to achieve. If you’d like me to help you with this, just drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
👩❤️👩 When you notice a tricky scenario on TV or real life then comment on it. For example, if you see a child in a supermarket help his brother, then comment on it so your child is aware of the behaviour. However, you don’t want your child to see it as a criticism of him, as he already has low self-esteem. But you can just make a general comment so your child is alerted to the desirable behaviour. Be open and honest and keep the communication open.
👩❤️👩 Organise play dates at your home. This may be a child one or two years younger. That’s okay as we know your child is lagging behind. And anyhow, when we get into the real world, how many of us form friendships with people who are in a different age group than us? For the play date, start off with a run in the park or walk the long way round from school. Watch closely for the trouble spots and intervene if necessary. Prepare successful activities and discreetly guide your child to make good choices. You are helping him learn how to successfully play with a peer so that another time he can manage on his own. Keep the play date short. Too long and there will be chance of tears and fall outs.
👩❤️👩 Work with the school to encourage friendships. Let them know the difficulties your child is having and how this is impacting behaviour at home. Arrange regular meetings with the class teacher to discuss specifically. Ask what the school are doing to help your child. Perhaps he could help with the younger ones at lunchtime, take in a favourite game to play with his peers, is there a buddy system? A red flag would be that your child is feigning illness to stay inside or walks around with the teacher on duty.
How are your child’s interests supported at school? Is he given a chance to shine and seen in a different light by his peers? You are totally entitled to ask these questions and can expect there to be ‘reasonable adjustments’ made at school to help your child.
Make sure the classroom is set up so that it is ADHD-friendly and your child is not being told off for things he cannot help. We know ADHD is a neurological condition and so the teacher must put things in place to help. Here are some tips I wrote a while ago.
👩❤️👩 Pursue your child’s interests in groups outside school. It is more likely that he will come across children who are similar to him and share the same interests. Your child will be in an environment that he feels comfortable in. Don’t however overload with too many activities. Only choose those he actually enjoys and is motivated. Also, choose a group with a leader who has a good attitude to children who have additional needs. A group that is too competitive or regimented is not the ideal place for your child. You may want to alert the group leader that your child has ADHD and what he needs. Here is a useful leaflet that you may want to share with the leader before the first session. (Right-click to save to your computer and then print)
Let me know how you get on and if you have any other fab tips to share.