How to help your child make friends
Friendship is the bright, beautiful, precious piece in the great quality-of-life puzzle. It improves our self-confidence, our happiness and help us deal with the stresses of life. Experts even say that having good social relationships is a better predictor of adult happiness than academic achievement. As the mantra of every parent goes: we want our children to be happy, more than anything in the world!
When ADHD gets in the way
And then there’s ADHD – putting a veritable strain on social relations. The skills that it takes to make and keep friends, such as listening, sharing and being empathetic, do not come naturally to children with ADHD – they may miss social cues, interrupt, blurt out comments, be wild and impulsive or disruptive. Children living with ADHD may also be highly energetic and unable to “read the room” in the moment.
This translates into children having difficulty making and keeping friends, being left out of group activities and pushed away by their peers. In turn, their parents worry (a lot!) that their child might be lonely, that they won’t ever have a best friend or have meaningful friendships.
Even one single true friend can make a difference to your child’s life, and you can play an important role in helping your child develop friendships at any age.
Here are eight strategies:
Your child needs one close friend and that person doesn’t need to be a peer; it can be a younger or older person, a grandparent, a neighbour or a teacher. Though your ADHD-diagnosed child may be a certain age, their social development level is lower. They may form relationships with younger children, and experts agree that it’s perfectly OK to do so. In fact, this will allow your child to take on a leadership role, which may not have happened with a peer relationship. On the other hand, spending time with older people such as relatives or neighbours will allow your child to be appreciated for their spontaneity and enthusiasm – which will do wonders for their self-esteem.
It’s easier to start a conversation with people if they have similar interests. Look for opportunities for your child to join clubs or groups that will encourage friendships, e.g. martial arts or art classes.
Parents of ADHD-diagnosed children have also credited team sports to their children’s social development. As your child ages, they will understand the concept of a team and teamwork, allowing them to develop healthy friendships.
If your child is still young, set up playdates with children who have similar interests. Parents have found that smaller groups of one to two children are more manageable. Keep the playdates to a maximum of three hours.
Psychiatrists say that if kids are having trouble with social skills - especially in the case of impulsive behaviour, jumping from one thing to the next or constantly interrupting – they may need to be medicated even after the school day ends. Consult with your doctor if this is a concern for you.
Keeping impressing on your children that good behaviour makes good friendships. To help their child, some parents do “social autopsies”, where they will sit with their child and discuss their child’s behaviour, post-social interaction. If your child had a successful interaction, praise him/ her. If it went badly, discuss the reasons for why that happened, and what your child could do differently next time. Remember to be sensitive, tactful, and positive.
“One of the most effective things parents can do is to set a good example,” says Michael Thompson, author of Best Friends, Worst Enemies. He explains that in addition to socializing with friends and relatives, parents should try to forge friendships with the parents of your child’s peers and stay connected to the community through religious communities, clubs and so forth.
Also reported in ADDitude, a US-based study of nearly 12,000 high schoolers discovered that teens who have warm relationships with their parents (where they share activities, talk often, and are affectionate) also tend to have good friendships. Prioritise your relationship with your child and watch them blossom into loving, caring adults.