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.

Help your ADHD child make lasting friendships and social relationships. ADDitude magazine

Praise should exceed criticism — even constructive criticism — by at least four to one.

Amori Yee Mikami, Ph.D.

It's common for children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) to have trouble making friends. How can parents help?

Amori Yee Mikami, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at University of Virginia, is studying this subject. In a series of study groups, she teaches parents of elementary school-age children how to be "friendship coaches" for their kids. The results are promising. Even teachers who don't know about the program notice that kids who participate play better with their peers.

We asked Dr. Mikami to suggest social skills techniques that parents might find useful.

Helping a child make better friendships sounds like a tall order. Where do you start?

Start by listening. The more positive and trusting your relationship, the more likely it is that your child will accept your guidance. If he's upset about a friendship problem, be empathetic. Give him a chance to express his feelings before saying what he should do differently next time.

Spend some time doing fun things together, just the two of you, without directing or criticizing his behavior. Building a relationship with your child pays off. Parents in my study groups have said that when they work on relationship-building at home, they see better behavior in their child's peer relationships right away.

But you do have to direct and criticize bad behavior sometimes, don't you?

Yes, but keep the ratio of positive to negative remarks as high as possible. Praise should exceed criticism — even constructive criticism— by at least four to one. Look for the positive, even if it's hard to find something to praise.

For example, you see your child with another child, and almost everything she does seems wrong. She goes up and says, "Hi," introduces herself, and says she wants to play. Then she treats the other kid as a play-slave, and says, "We're going to do this. I go first. You stand here."

There's a lot to criticize. But you can praise what she did well: walking up and introducing herself in a friendly way. As for the rest, there may be 20 behaviors that you'd like to change, but be selective. Pick the most important one or two—and be specific in what you say: "When you play a game, you get to move your pieces, but you have to let your friend move hers."

Can parents take a more active role in promoting friendships?

They can and they should. ADHD kids may make poor choices when it comes to choosing friends. They pick someone they can boss around, often a younger child. Or they are attracted to "bad influences," who are exciting because they're always getting into trouble.

You can help your child make better choices — for instance, a friend with the same interests who's also a good personality match.

A great way to find the right playmates is to volunteer at your child's school and for extracurricular activities. You see other kids, and you get to know other parents. It's an opportunity to network and to suggest playdates.


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

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