Remind yourself that your child will have better and worse days as he or she is working on being a better friend. We all have ups and downs. Try not to get too discouraged with yourself or with your child when there are minor setbacks, so long as your child’s friendship-making skills are improving overall.
Also, remember that your child does not need to be the most popular boy or girl in the class. In fact, sometimes children who are the most popular develop other problems. The goal is for your child to maintain a small group of close friends who truly like one another and can turn to each other for support. If you can invest in helping your child develop a few strong friendships, then this will set the stage for your child to become a happy, well-adjusted adult.
Here are some tips to make playdates happy occasions.
Before the playdate
• Choose the right friend to invite over (see last week's blog on identifying good potential friends).
• Have your child and the friend decide in advance what they would like to do during the playdate. Then, plan the activity with your child and don’t leave a lot of unstructured downtime.
• Put away (with your child) any toys that your child doesn’t want the guest to touch.
• Have snacks on hand in case there is a period of boredom. Then you can bring out snacks and revitalize the interaction.
• If there are poor friendship behaviors that your child shows consistently, pick no more than one or two to discuss with your child in advance. Tell your child you’ll be watching out for him to do well in these areas and (if necessary) you will give him a reward afterward for behaving well. Remember to tell your child the positive behavior you would like to see and to pick a standard that is slightly above his child’s current performance, but not so far above that it is unattainable.
• Make the first playdate last no longer than one hour. Make it a shorter amount of time if you are not sure your child can behave for one hour. The guest should leave on a good note.
During the playdate
• If your child is showing minor behavior problems, calmly whisper a reminder in her ear.
• If the behavior problems are more severe or if the reminder doesn’t work, ask to see your child in the other room and tell her what behaviors need to be changed. If you do it privately with your child, it won’t make the guest feel awkward. If your child is behaving that poorly, the guest will have already noticed that, and will be relieved that you are doing something about it.
• Unless the problems are so severe that someone is in danger, don’t send the guest home. The guest shouldn’t be punished for your child’s misbehavior. Plus, your child loses the opportunity to socialize. Give your child a different punishment afterward. Then, ask yourself what you could do differently next time before the playdate to reduce the likelihood that this will happen again.
After the playdate
• If true, tell the other parent that the children had a good time and you hope they can get together again.
• Use the principles of effective feedback to tell your child specifically what was and was not good friendship-making. Remember the 4:1 ratio and to praise for even 25 percent correct.
• If you had a contract with your child about how to behave, then give your child the rewards that you promised if your child showed these target behaviors.
NEXT WEEK: How do you give your child friendship feedback? Can you be your child's friendship coach if you have ADHD, 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.