Making Friends

The Playdate Protocol: Rules of Engagement, Sharing, and Taking Turns

Inviting your child’s classmate over for a playdate is a good friendship-building strategy, but success requires much more than serving a snack. How to keep aggression, obstinance, and impatience from ruining a fun day.

Two children with ADHD sharing toys on a playdate
Two boys playing with blocks or toys or something

Katie was excited to have Loren, a fellow third-grader, come over for a playdate. As soon as Loren arrived, Katie told her the rules (which she made up) for every game they played, and Loren submissively followed the directions — up to a point. When Loren won a game, or didn’t follow the rules to Katie’s liking, Katie got upset and yelled at her. After getting into the car to go home, Loren’s mom asked her daughter if she had a good time. Loren shouted, “No — I’m never playing with her again.”

Kids don’t want to come back to play with a poor host who has behaved badly, gets angry, or is incapable of sharing. In fact, a child who isn’t a gracious host will have a lot of trouble making friends. Here’s what your child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should know:

ADHD Playdate Do’s and Don’ts

DO: Live by the motto that the guest is always right. This rule neutralizes bossiness and is easy to enforce. If there is an argument — about the rules of a game or which game to play — tell your child that the guest is right. If the guest is pushy, your child doesn’t have to invite him over again. If the friend physically hurts your child, call the child’s parents.

DO: Instill friendship loyalty. If another child comes by or calls during the play date, have your child tell him, “I’m busy right now, but thanks. I’ll get back to you later.” If you find your child and his friend playing in different rooms, determine the cause before taking action. If things are going well, ask your child to stop what he is doing and re-join the guest.

DON’T: Let ADHD symptoms threaten good manners.

If your child is bored: Most kids with ADHD will be bored during a longer play date — he should suggest doing something else, using the right words. Instead of saying “This is boring” or “I’m tired of playing the good guy,” he can say, “Can we play something else for a little while?”

If your child is disinterested: Instead of saying “That’s a stupid game you picked,” she should say, “How about we play Chutes and Ladders?”

If your child is possessive: Before your child’s friend comes over, put away toys and possessions your child doesn’t want to share. This will avoid conflicts with friends who want to play with and touch everything. Your child has to share whatever he leaves out.

What’s the reward? If your child learns to be a good host, he will get what he wants most — a best friend.

Excerpted from Friends Forever (Jossey-Bass). Copyright 2010, by Fred Frankel, Ph.D.

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