Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Become Your Child's Friendship Coach

guest blog by Amori Yee Mikami, PhD

Does your elementary school-aged child with ADHD have social issues? Just as you can help your child succeed academically, you can help your child make and keep friends. Here are some guidelines.

Build on a positive parent-child relationship.

Children will be more likely to listen to constructive feedback and guidance about their friendship problems if they feel their parent is on their side. Think about the parallel with your own life: Do you want to improve your performance for a caring, positive boss, or for a critical boss you can never please? In order to do this:
•    Spend special time doing a fun activity alone with your child - without directing, teaching, or criticizing.
•    Pick your battles wisely. If your child is doing ten things wrong, focus on the most crucial one or two first. Most children can only handle working on one or two things at a time before they feel overwhelmed.
•    If your child is upset, try to be empathetic and listen to your child’s feelings first for ten minutes before you jump in and suggest what your child could do differently next time. If the problem is already in the past, delaying ten minutes before you give constructive suggestions will not hurt anything.

Give friendship feedback.

Try to keep the ratio of positive to negative feedback about 4:1. Research has shown that this ratio keeps adults happy with their marriages and jobs; children are no different. It is exceptionally hard to maintain this high ratio when parenting children with ADHD because of their behavior problems; most parents report they are nowhere near this ratio. In order to get there:
•    Start by praising for 25% correct. This actually encourages your child to try harder than if you wait around for your child to do something a 100% correct before you praise and your child never or rarely manages to do it.
•    Don’t spoil the praise by adding backhanded criticisms such as, “You did a good job today, but why can’t you do this all the time?”

When your child has behaved badly and you need to address the problem behavior:
•    Keep it specific to the behavior that needs to be changed and not about character.
•    Try to talk about the behavior that just occurred and not about what may have happened in the past.
•    If you feel yourself getting angry, it is okay to say to your child, “I am getting upset and I don’t want to say something I don’t mean. Let’s take a break to calm down.”

Identify good potential friends.

These should be same-age peers who seem already inclined to like your child (or at least don’t dislike your child), share common interests with your child, and won’t be a bad or destructive influence. It’s more important to choose the right match for your child than to choose the most popular child in the class. Ideally, you also want to choose a peer whose parent can provide the supervision your child needs and who understands your child’s behavior.

Children with ADHD can be poor judges of who likes and who does not like them. This may be because they miss social cues from peers, or because they want to have more friends than they truly do. You can help your child sort out good potential friends by getting involved in your child’s activities to observe which children seem to get along with your child. In order to identify good potential friends:
•    Ask your child who he or she likes to play with and why, and what they do together.
•    Ask your child's teacher (or group leader of an extracurricular activity) who in the class might be a good potential friend for your child.
•    Volunteer to help out in the classroom and in your child’s activities. Observe the children to see who might be a good potential friend.
•    Hang out during activities and network with other parents. You will get to know them and they will be more likely to invite your child places.
•    If your child consistently wants to play with one peer you consider a bad influence, make a pact to first invite someone else for two playdates. Then your child can invite the peer of his or her choice for the next playdate.

Arrange fun playdates.

Playdates are the cornerstones to deepening friendships among elementary schoolchildren. Aim for one to two good, high-quality, supervised playdates per week for your child. Is your child currently having zero good playdates? Then it is more important to have one good playdate every month than to pack in two playdates per week where the quality suffers.

NEXT WEEK: Your guide to setting up successful playdates.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue! Join the conversation about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Amori Yee Mikami, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a registered clinical psychologist in British Columbia. She previously taught at the University of Virginia. Mikami received CHADD’s 2006 Young Scientist Award.

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