Your child is bright, creative, and clearly has many areas of skills. In theory, that should make it so that relating to peers is easy, given that he has so many areas of interest to talk and relate about, right? Well, not exactly. Our children with ADHD are passionate people who love what they love very much, but sharing that information or knowledge with a peer may look like your child is talking at instead of talking with.
Your child may also become easily frustrated because other children are not as interested in the areas or topics that she can’t stop talking about. Your child may not notice the body language and facial expressions of a peer who has lost interest, and ultimately walks away. Your child feels rejected, but doesn’t know why – and may even yell or become very angry. The other children don’t understand your child’s internal experience and begin to label him as angry or weird. To a mother, that’s heartbreaking.
Unfortunately, you can’t go to school with your child and mediate these peer interactions (even though you’ve thought about it!), but you can use a few strategies to help build your child’s social awareness in an effort to make social relationships a little bit easier.
To help your child understand what a disinterested peer looks like, act it out, or be exaggerative in your response to him when he tells you a story at home that is now going on for a long period of time with no end in sight. Your tolerance is longer and your patience may be greater because, after all, this is your baby. However, friends are not that patient.
See if your child asks you what’s wrong or why you’re making that face or slouching in your seat. Use this as a time to tell your child that his story is too long. You may feel like a ‘bad’ parent for saying something like this, but if you don’t, his peers will – and they likely won’t be as nice about it!
You can also role play other signs of disinterest, such as looking around the room, starting a conversation with another person, or walking away. Let your child know that it’s time to end a story or conversation and do something else. For example, she could ask her peer, “What did you do this weekend? What’s your favorite cartoon?” or “Do you want to play tag with me?”
Every story has a beginning, middle and end
This is a tough one that some adults have not yet mastered! Every story has a beginning, middle and end. That is, the general rule is that a story shouldn’t last much longer than a minute or two. After that, we lose interest. Encourage your child to end his story with the point he wants to make. Next, he should pause and let his friend ask a question or make a comment. Children can use this type of formula and adapt it as they get older.
This process also helps to build a level of self-awareness and self-monitoring of behavior. This is a great executive functioning skill to start developing, as it’s a tough one that grows with lots of practice.
I encourage parents to schedule play dates at their home and to stay within ear shot so they can hear how the social interaction is going… or not going. That is, if you hear or see that your child is having a hard time negotiating which game to play because the two can’t seem to decide, you can intervene.
Press pause. Ask your child to help you with something, and take her into the other room where you can ask her what’s happening. Listen to her perception of what’s happening, as this will give you insight into her social interactions and general social experience. Then, offer her an idea of how to compromise and let her go.
This ‘within the moment’ coaching is ideal and very relevant to the social situation at hand. The hope is that, with practice, your child will learn how to negotiate with peers in other arenas, such as school, birthday parties, or extracurricular activities.
Although we invest much time, energy and money into our children’s activities, sometimes, the best source of support comes right from the home!
Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who specializes in treating children with ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, and learning disabilities. She created the ACHIEVE program to coach students with ADHD to create organizational systems that work for them. Dr. Liz serves as Parent Coach, in which she helps parents develop boundaries and maintain consistency in the home environment. She has been effective in helping to decrease anxiety in children, adolescents, and adults using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. She is also a sought-after contributor to numerous publications, blogs and radio shows!
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