Not Just Teammates — Friends

You've signed your kid up for organized activities — but it takes more than that to help her make real friends in dance class or on the team.

How to use activities to find the best buddies for your ADHD child. (Girls in a ballet class)

Sign up your child for only two activities — leave time for play dates.

— Fred Frankel, Ph.D.

The usual suggestion parents give each other to help their children make friends is to put them in an organized activity — a team, a class, or scouts. This is helpful, but it's only the first step. Research shows that organized activities by themselves don't improve friendships. Take these steps and your child will have more fun, more play dates, and lasting friendships.

Organized Activities in Your Neighborhood

Expand your perception of "neighborhood" to include an area that is within a 10-minute drive of your home. Whether or not your child attends a school in your neighborhood, you should find some neighborhood children with whom your child likes to play. You might even find a parent you want to be friends with.

There are three kinds of activities to consider: classes (dance, ballet, karate, science), groups (scouts, theater, day camps), and team sports. Never sign up your child for more than two activities at a time, to leave time for one-on-one play dates.

Studies show that activities for "girls only" enhance a girl's self-esteem better than coed activities do. Although having friends of both genders is desirable, it is important to encourage same-sex friendships, since children generally segregate themselves by gender in the schoolyard.

How do you find local resources? Take a drive through your neighborhood with your child after school one day or on a weekend:

> Look for parks that are safe and maintained, where children of your child's age are playing. Go into the park office and check for after-school programs. Many of these are seasonal, with sign-ups starting one to two months before the start of the season.

> Search out public and private schools. Your neighborhood schoolyard may have after-school programs open to your child, even if he doesn't attend the school.

> Call the scouting district office to find the leaders of units in your area. Call in September, when scouts reorganize into new groups. If you call later, your child might not get into a group.

Try Out the Activity — Twice

Get your child to give the activity a try. Make it mandatory that she go at least twice, so that she can make an informed choice.

It's important that your child make a good first impression. He will not make friends if he doesn't follow basic rules of etiquette:

1. Take the activity seriously; don't clown around. Be quiet and listen to the adult instructor. Making faces or silly sounds or whispering is disruptive to everyone.

2. Don't talk to other kids while you are supposed to be paying attention to the adult. This is annoying to everybody.

3. Stay in your assigned area; don't interfere with anyone else's performance. Telling other children what to do or running all over the field to make catches are clear violations of this rule.

4. Don't criticize others. Either praise them or be quiet.

If your child follows these rules, praise him on the way home. If he violates one or more of the four basic rules, pull him aside immediately after the rule-breaking and quietly remind him of the rule. Secure a promise from him to obey it. If your child continues to break the four basic rules, pull him out of that activity.

Rate the Adult Supervisor

Your next priority is to ensure that your child has an experience that will build self-confidence rather than damage it. The benefits your child gets from sports and classes depend upon the adult supervisors. In general, good adult supervisors and coaches:

> teach children how to play or perform without overly high expectations

> praise children for giving their personal best

> accept the game official's ruling

> work children at practice with a plan for improvement

> let all children have fun.

If your child is on a team with a coach who doesn't do these things, try to switch your child to another team (this will be hard, but it's worth a try), or withdraw your child from the team. You don't want to invest time in an activity that frustrates you and your child, so try to avoid a demoralizing experience.

Involve Yourself in the Activity

Get to know other parents while your child is getting to know the other children. Socialize with them, and join them as they watch the activity. If other parents are helping as assistants, offer to help them.

If your child has a lot of social problems, try not to be a coach-parent. If you're like most other parents, the game will get your competitive juices flowing as you coach the team. You will have limited time to oversee your own child's behaviors.

Make Play Dates

You've met other parents, your child has met other children, and he has made a good first impression. Now you can make plans to get the children together. Start by asking your child if there is anyone special he would like to play with.

Dad: Anyone on your Little League team you'd like to invite over for a couple of hours?

Child: I don't know.

Dad: How about Tommy? You seem to get along with him, and I can ask his dad.

Child: OK.

Start with a short play date before or after practice, and see how it goes.

Your child doesn't have to be talented in an activity to use it to meet and make friends. He needs only to know enough about it to choose others to play with who are at his own skill level.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Friends Forever, by FRED FRANKEL, Ph.D. Copyright (c) 2010 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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