One of the most heartbreaking things about being the parent of a child with ADHD is watching them fail at friendships.
It is tragically sad to see them rejected in the playground, no invites to play dates or birthday parties and lonely holidays. My son struggles with his birthday even now he is an adult, because for so many years this was a time when he felt the rejection even more painfully.
The upsetting thing is, you know that your child is sweet, kind, funny, generous, thoughtful and would make a great playmate.
So why can’t Your child make friends?
To a young child, ADHD can be very overwhelming. Our children don’t have boundaries, can interrupt, can be spontaneous. This can just be too much for some children to cope with so they steer away from our children.
We know our children are lagging behind perhaps up to three years developmentally behind their peers. They are emotionally immature. So in the playground our Y6 kids want to still play ‘catch’ or imaginative play, whilst the peers have moved on.
A teenager may be asked to keep a secret or not say anything embarrassing. Too tempting for our children and so they are constantly falling out and feel isolated and rejected.
It doesn’t take long for our children to be labelled as naughty, lazy, rude, dreamy by the adults at school. They are called out and are shamed and blamed. This affects how the peers and other parents view them. And so no invites will appear for playdates.
I was just as isolated by the other parents in the playground, as my son was by his peers.
Our children have brains full of ideas and thoughts. It is really hard for them to filter out what is appropriate. So during a conversation with a peer, the talk may be scattered and topics jump about like popping corn. This is hard for a peer to keep up with so our children are side-lined for children who seem less complicated.
Our children may come across as bossy or controlling. This is not a character flaw, rather than the difficulty they have with executive function. Our children have trouble with visualising different outcomes.
So this comes across as being stubborn and difficult. If they are suggesting to go on the slide but the friend wants to go on the swing, our children have already planted themselves in the slide scenario and find it hard to switch. So the peer gives up and finds someone else to play with.
Our children have such low self-esteem that as soon as things don’t go the way they expect, they react negatively. They get angry and frustrated and have poor self control over their emotions. So they may scream and shout or get physical and hit out. So the peers will look upon our children as ones to avoid.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?
School is the only institution where we are grouped by age. So immediately our children are at a disadvantage. Our children are judged against children who may be emotionally and academically streets ahead. For all the reasons expressed above, our children have little in common and have little chance of successful friendships at school.
We therefore need to work hard at finding like-minded children out of school. Think about what motivates your child. What do they really enjoy? Find a club that has little pressure – so avoid any where there will be exams or highly competitive.
Let the leaders of the club know exactly what your child finds difficult and what works – I would give a one-page passport so it is clearly laid out.
TEACH SOCIAL SKILLS
There are some great games and books you can get and play together. Specifically teach your child the skills s/he is lacking. Look on Pinterest for some great ideas. Be very obvious in your instructions ” You must let your friend choose first. Then it will be your turn”.
SOCIAL SKILLS GROUP
You may be able to access a specific group run by school or a speech therapist. Although I think this would go alongside reinforcing at home.
At every opportunity point out situations where you see good relationships happening.
So if you’re watching TV together and a character has been thoughtful to a friend, say out loud how nice that is. If you’re shopping and you see brothers taking turns, point it out.
You could almost talk out loud to yourself and not even direct the conversation at your child. She / he will hear it!
It is important that your child learns to manage his own emotions when things start to get overwhelming.
Teach him/ her to read physiological changes such as sweaty hands, heart beating faster, flushed face.
Then find their own strategies to calm themselves – walk away, sit in a quiet space, listen to headphones, have a drink, go outside.
Use an emotions gauge and say I can see you heading for a 10, get yourself back to a 3. If you’d like a copy of one, email me firstname.lastname@example.org
PLAYDATES AT YOUR HOUSE
As much as possible, arrange the playdate at your house. This way if things get too much, your child has his own calm place. You can also manage the situation if you see things getting out of hand. Go outdoors as much as you can.
I don’t think we should disregard the positive effect on our children’s well-being on having online friends. These are real relationships for your child. This is where they feel safe and successful.
However there needs to be boundaries and limits and there needs to be discussion with your child about what is acceptable.
But this is the brave new world. As long as you teach your child about online safety and never giving personal information away, friends online can be exactly what your child needs.
Hope that helps.
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