We love cat videos and carpool karaoke just as much as the next guy. But these YouTube videos can help kids with ADHD learn to decode non-verbal information and grasp the feelings underlying social relationships.
Many children pick up what they need to know about social skills, relationships, and interacting with other people by watching and absorbing what others do. They're exposed to it; they look at it; they take it all in. Certainly parents may say, "This is the time to say thank you" or, "Remember to say please." And when kids get older, their peers give feedback that they take in, integrate and use to make modifications in how they're reacting. Without a lot of teaching, they somehow end up being able to have relatively fulfilling, ongoing social relationships.
But that doesn’t happen for all children.
Especially for children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), exposure to social interactions doesn’t always result in social performance. Before we expect kids to behave in the classroom or on the playground, we need to take time to explain what that means, let kids discuss it, and give examples to start those discussions. YouTube videos for kids can be a good place to start the conversation.
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Struggles with Social Cues, Empathy and Focus
Kids with ADHD often have difficulty processing and scanning relevant social information, especially in the moving environment of real, in-the-moment social interaction. To build their ability to cue into what is really important, we must help them read the feelings and non-verbal information others are giving them – a crucial step in establishing and maintaining relationships.
Also important is remaining flexible when working in a group or having a conversation. This requires taking another person's perspective, understanding what they might be thinking, and changing our own plan according to what is happening around us. Staying focused on the conversation, balancing a give and take of speaking, and staying focused on other people’s interests can all be challenging.
Kids with ADHD may also struggle with emotional regulation and outbursts. We need to build their resilience for when things go wrong.
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Using Media to Teach
Watching a video of social interactions can help a child identify a character’s social mistakes and victories without focusing on their own faux pas. Talking about characters can help build a comfort level for kids who struggle with relationships and, over time, strengthen the child's ability to self-reflect.
After watching a couple of examples, the child might think, "Maybe that has happened to me, and maybe I’m ready to talk about that.” Then parents and teachers can move on to practicing and reviewing to support interactions at the dinner table or on play dates, and be able to talk about how things went afterward.
YouTube is magnificent for this type of social learning for these reasons:
Engaging Material: Kids who have participated in talk or behavior therapy may feel it’s getting old. YouTube is new, slick, and interactive.
More Like Real Life: Worksheets and pictures are static. The component of movement in videos lets students practice processing social information as it happens, keeping up.
Pause and Rewind: Kids can freeze the social interaction to really look at how the faces changed, and identify the facial expressions. You can take sticky notes and write the thoughts and feelings of the character and put them on the screen so kids can develop a deep understanding of the interaction.
I recommend using YouTube to enhance social skills in four main areas: feelings, inner voice, cooperation, and dealing with conflict.
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Be careful, conservative, and responsible with the videos you show. If you’re showing a video in a classroom or therapeutically, how does it fit with your students' experiences and challenges? Why are you showing it? What visual supports are you going to use? How are you going to make this work for the kids involved? Never show anything questionable.
This slideshow contains a list of fabulous, beautifully realized animations and videos I recommend as social learning material. However, they appeal to a wide range of kids, so all videos are not appropriate for all children. Please preview carefully and use your judgment in selecting the best ones to use. Also, beware of commercials that precede some YouTube videos – many of them are not child-friendly.
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How to Teach 'Feelings'
Feelings are at the core of relationships. Start by asking your child, “What kind of feeling words do you know?” Make a list, and use it as your baseline for your child's feeling vocabulary – then talk about which feelings are comfortable and uncomfortable. Watch one of the following videos on YouTube:
Follow the video by asking, “What feelings did you notice the characters had?” For visual support, ask your child to write the feelings on sticky notes, or draw a quick sketch. Ask, “Have you ever felt like that? Can you tell us about that?” Children often need a list or visual prompt when they are building their emotional vocabulary. Sketches, lists, and sticky notes can help.
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How to Teach 'Inner Voice'
Start by asking, “I have a voice in my head. Do you? What does it say?” Tell your child that sometimes the voice in our head is supportive, “You can do it! Come on.” But sometimes the voice can be very critical, “I can’t believe I did that. That was so stupid of me.” Give examples from your own life, and watch one of these YouTube videos:
Now, watch it a second time, and stop at moments when you think something is happening in the character’s head. Ask, “What do you think the character is thinking? How do you think he feels when his voice says that?” Use several different videos. Ask your child to come up with ideas for what could be helpful self talk for the character, like “Don’t worry, try again.”
Try playing a board game. Start by explaining how games can have tricky moments when you might feel terrible, frustrated, happy, sad, mad, and excited. Ask, “If you have one of those uncomfortable feelings, what can you do to make the feeling smaller?”
Draw thought bubbles on Post-Its such as, “It’s OK, next time I can try again.” “Bummer, maybe next time I’ll get more than one.” And “It’s okay, it’s just a game.” When a child has a bad roll you can cue them, “Do you need to think a thought bubble?” It’s a visual that is easy for them to refer to.
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How to Teach Cooperation
Cooperation is a complex concept. It’s not just working together; it’s a complicated a web of feelings and actions that includes being patient and trusting others, not giving up, listening, going with a group idea, clarifying ideas, managing strong feelings, understanding other people’s ideas, being flexible, sharing a job, and combinations of these things. YouTube videos like these can show different examples of each aspect of cooperation:
After watching the video, ask your child, “Wow. Do you ever get stuck on an idea? Can you come up with an example of when you might have gotten stuck?” Ask them to sketch it. Ask them to include thought bubbles and label how they have been feeling.
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How to Teach Conflict Resolution
Start by telling your child, “This is a video about conflict where things are not going very well.” Watch the YouTube clip, and ask, “What do you think this person is feeling? What do you think they are thinking?”
Help kids to recognize that behavior is tied to choice. You can choose to act one way, or choose to act another way. You can choose to stop and think about it.
Ask your child to criticize the characters by saying, "Boy, he really blew it. Do you think both characters are responsible?" Then you can bridge to your own self. "You know what? I think sometimes I've actually contributed to arguments that you and I have had."
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Make Social Learning a Daily Dialog
Lead by example. When you watch a YouTube video together, make your own drawings, and talk about what you noticed. Label your own feelings in situations, especially the uncomfortable ones (e.g., sad and mad). Use more sophisticated labels like “frustrated” and “annoyed.” Repeat these exercises when you are reading books and bedtime stories.
Be specific when you notice good social thinking, like “Wow, that was great how you helped Grandpa up even though you had just sat down,” is much more clear than “Thanks!” When you need to discuss those not-so-great choices, draw what happened. Supplement abstract discussions with concrete pictures, labeled feelings, and talk/thought bubbles.