Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Friendship Feedback & Parents with ADHD

guest blog by Amori Yee Mikami, PhD

This series on being a friendship coach for your child with ADHD began with a discussion on building a positive parent-child relationship. I also shared guidelines for helping your child make and keep friends.

My next post described how to set up successful playdates, the cornerstones to deepening friendships among elementary-school children.

Today let's consider the quality of the feedback you give your child following those playdates. Learn from the examples to make comments that actually help your child. And if you have ADHD, too, here are some specialized tips on being your child's friendship coach.

Giving your child friendship feedback

Here are some tips and examples of helpful and not-so-helpful comments from parents to children.

1. Keep it brief. It will be easier for your child to follow what you say.
  • Poor: "In this last playdate you talked with your friend early on about who should go first, which your friend wanted to do, and I think that was helpful to lead to your friend feeling welcomed by you as a guest here."   
  • Better: "Nice job letting your friend go first."

2. Be specific. Your child needs to know exactly what behavior is expected.
  • Poor: "Nobody likes it if you are a bad sport when you lose."
  • Better: "If you lose you can say 'good game' to the winner."

3. Stay in the present. This is especially important when you are giving negative feedback; the child can’t do anything about the past.
  • Poor: "You always have to move your guest’s pieces in games. You did that today with your guest, you did it the last time we had a playdate too, and your teacher says this is a problem at school too." 
  • Better: "I think that your guest today wanted to move his own pieces in the game. Next time, you move your own when it’s your turn and let your guest move his own when it’s his turn."

4. Stay positive. Catch your child being good to encourage more of that behavior in the future.
  • Poor: "You shared your dolls but then you really didn’t share your video games after that. You need to work harder on sharing the whole time."
  • Better: "Awesome job sharing your dolls so well! Your friend really liked that."

All in the family

Sometimes parents of children with ADHD have ADHD symptoms, too. This can make being a friendship coach for the child easier in some ways and more challenging in others. Here are some tips to remember:

•    Empathize with your child.
Having ADHD yourself can make you more patient and understanding when dealing with your child’s friendship difficulties. This has the positive benefit of building a good parent-child relationship so that your child trusts you to be on his side and help him as a friendship coach. Also, having ADHD may help you better anticipate your child’s social behaviors and needs.

•    Take things one step at a time.
Some parents with ADHD struggle with providing the level of structured, organized playdate that is recommended here. Just pick one friendship-coaching tip that is realistic to try with your child first, and focus on doing that one tip well. It might help to write on your calendar which friendship-coaching tip you have chosen so that you are reminded about your goal. Once you practice the tip it will get easier, and then you can work on adding another friendship coaching tip later.

•    Work together as a team.
Some parents with ADHD have difficulty networking with other parents, similar to the difficulties that their child with ADHD has in relating to the other children. You and your child might both set a goal that, during soccer practice, both of you will talk to other adults and children to each think about one potential friend to invite for a playdate. Remember to celebrate your successes as a team afterward, too.

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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