Become Your Child's Friendship Coach: ADHD Parenting Advice

Children with ADHD often have trouble making friends, but a social skills expert discusses ways parents can coach their kids toward lasting friendships.

Friends for Children with ADHD, Part 2

Playdates — aren't they more trouble than they're worth?

For children, they're the cornerstone of deepening friendships — one-on-one time, like having lunch with a coworker instead of just tagging along with a group. But kids with ADHD have far fewer playdates than other kids — only one-sixth as many. Parents are reluctant to set them up. They're already exhausted after helping with homework and chores and getting through the morning routine. And they worry that their child will misbehave on the playdate. They may wonder, "Why set myself up for another struggle?"

How can you make playdates go more smoothly?

Planning. Before the playdate, put away anything that might cause conflict, like a favorite toy that your child wouldn't want other kids to touch. Some kids have trouble with handheld video games that they refuse to share. Stash them in an off-limits place, such as your bedroom closet.

Plan enough activities so that you leave little or no unstructured time. If your child has repeatedly acted in a way that's likely to cause trouble, caution him in advance about the most appropriate behavior. For instance, if he's overly competitive at board games, tell him, "If you lose, say 'Good game' to your friend, or don't say anything." Be on hand with snacks or another distraction in case the kids start fighting—especially if you don't know the other child well.

And limit the length of the get-together. An hour is sufficient for a six- or seven-year-old child, particularly if this is his first playdate with this friend. For a 10-year-old, you can extend the time another hour or so. Overall, you want it to end while everybody is still having fun.

How closely should you supervise?

It depends largely on the age and the child. You might want to be in the same room with a six-year-old, so you can head off a tantrum if you see it coming. For a 10-year-old, stay just within earshot and check in from time to time to see if the kids need your attention. If it's too quiet, your child may have lost interest and be ignoring her friend.

Whisper to your child if something's wrong. If it's the kind of behavior you discussed beforehand, a reminder may be enough. If it isn't, or if the misbehavior is serious, talk to her in another room. Unless the situation is really out of control, don't cut the playdate short.

What do you do after the playdate's over?

Debrief your child. Give him feedback, particularly on how he handled the behavior you focused on before the playdate. You might say, "It was really nice of you to congratulate your friend on winning the game, like we talked about."

Use the experience in planning the next playdate. If you stay focused on improving trouble behaviors, you should see progress. It often happens that way in my study groups.


This article comes from the August/September 2007 issue of ADDitude.

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