Your ADHD daughter is an angel most of the time, but when a friend comes over to play, she gets possessive of her toys. "Can I play with your Barbie?" asks her friend. "No, she's mine, she belongs to me," shouts your daughter, as she grabs it away from her friend, who is ready to cry. Your ADHD son gets angry with his buddy when he doesn't play a board game the way he thinks it should be played. He turns the game board upside down and walks out of the room.
Parents ask, "How can I teach my child to play nice, to treat his friends, well, like friends?" Are there toys that will increase your preschooler's social-skills IQ? Yes, there are. I am a toy expert. I enlist my two highly energetic sons, whom I fondly call Number 1 Son and Number 2 Son, to try out toys that teach, amuse, and enlighten kids of all ages. Then I review them on my website, toysaretools.com. Here are my favorites for teaching friendship skills:
BENEFIT: The maze helps kids understand how they affect others.
At first, it was hard for me to understand how playing with the Perplexus Rookie helps kids understand how their actions affect others. The Perplexus Rookie is a 3D maze encased in a transparent sphere. A child begins at the starting line and maneuvers a ball on a long, winding track. The child has to move the ball at the right speed or it will fall off the track, forcing him to go back to the beginning.
Jonathan Lauter, M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, enlightened me. "Playing with a maze helps a child become more self-aware by learning about his own skill sets," says Lauter. "He needs to think, 'What do I need to do now? How do I slow myself down?'"
Being aware of cause and effect, which this game promotes, allows a child to realize that he makes an impact on the world. "When you are engaged in a process that causes you to be self-reflective and think carefully about your actions, you become more civilized and more thoughtful about people around you," says Lauter. And that extends to the playground and to play dates.
Tegu Discovery Set
BENEFIT: Make-believe play helps kids understand how others feel.
ADHD kids love to build things, and their visual-spatial skills are usually sharp. ADHD kids who build houses and buildings with the Tegu magnetic block set often "create" people to live in the structures. My kids make a person out of two cubes and two short planks. This representational play happens intuitively because of the organic feel and appearance of the Tegu blocks. And if a "person" comes apart, it is very easy to put him back together.
"A child wants to say, 'Oooh, I'm the teacher and Mommy, you're the student,'" says Heather Goldman, Ph.D., a child psychologist and a consultant to The Quad Manhattan, an educational center for gifted kids with and without mild special needs. Goldman gave me an example of how make-believe play sharpens social skills.
"Children experience things in school and situations with their parents and friends," says Goldman. "And then, in their play, they recreate those scenarios with play people, and gain an understanding of what is going on."
Tall-Stacker Mighty Monkey Playset
BENEFIT: The Playset encourages kids to be silly on their own indoor "playground."
Another pretend-play toy that taps into an ADHD child's desire to build is this jungle-themed playground set. It represents a playground, a scene that is infrequent in preschooler play sets. Yet professionals say that playground play sets build social skills in very young children.
"I think play sets are beneficial for children because kids are so familiar with the playground," says child psychotherapist Christa Murphy, LCSW, of Queens West Health, in New York, who takes her small clients to playgrounds to give social skills guidance. Murphy feels that using monkeys as the main characters in this toy inspires silly play. That is what our kids want to do, but are not allowed to do, because it is either unsafe or socially unacceptable.
When I took my ADHD preschooler to the playground, I would either be stressed out about his getting hurt or I would worry about what other parents thought of my child. I found it so difficult, and unfair, that I couldn't let him play "his ADHD way." While our children may prefer to be sillier and daring in their real-life playground, the Mighty Monkey Playset is an excellent way to explore swinging, running, riding, and playground relationships safely at home.
Yo Baby Kick Flipper
BENEFIT: This cool board teaches kids to take turns.
For most ADHD kids, spending time on a playground doesn't offer enough structure, and offers too much face-to-face interaction. This causes a preschooler with ADHD to feel overwhelmed.
The Yo Baby Kick Flipper -- a plastic skateboard deck, without wheels, used for teaching kids the basics of board sports -- is an awesome social-scene helper. I have found that practicing tricks in the park is an icebreaker for kids. Think about purchasing two Kick Flippers. The second one can be offered to any curious kid who wants to try it out. What will likely follow is a natural turn-taking process, where kids go from sneaking peeks at each other's tricks to stopping to watch while waiting to show what they can do. It encourages friendship.
Could there be an easier, more entertaining way to encourage turn-taking? I really can't think of any.
JENN CHOI is the founder of toysaretools.com.
This article appears in the Fall issue of ADDitude.
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