“Summer School” for Social Smarts
Tips on using summer social gatherings to help your ADHD child practice social relationship skills.
Inattention, hyperactivity, impulsivity. The problems that impede school performance in children with ADHD also thwart the ability to make and keep friends.
Often, the subtle social cues that are the currency of relationships seem to go unnoticed. The child with ADHD may fail to recognize, for instance, that he is standing too close to his friend, or that the friend wants to keep playing the game he has become bored with. Or he may jump to conclusions, making quick, negative judgments about a playmate’s intentions.
If your child is anxious and rigid, like many kids with ADHD, she’s even more likely to be bossy and impulsive as she seeks to protect her toys from being moved or her game rules from being changed.
Students acquire social skills — such as negotiating, accepting the choices of others, and offering compliments — from being part of a classroom community, or from working together in small groups. For most kids, these skills are inherently rewarding, and, once learned, are kept. But children with ADHD need reminders and rewards throughout the year. So take advantage of summer social gatherings to prompt, monitor, and reinforce relationship skills that will enhance friendships and classroom achievement.
- Play to your child’s strengths. Well-chosen activities can call forth the best from your child. Encourage her to share her talents with friends — building a birdhouse, say, or cooking a meal.
- Invite the right playmate. Encourage visits from friends your child gets along — preferably, those who are role models for good social skills. If you’re inviting a new friend, keep the interaction to an hour or so until you know that the two are compatible.
- Define the skills. Expressing behavioral goals in specific and positive terms is more effective than using phrases like “be nice” or “don’t be mean.” Tell your child that you’ll be watching to see that he’s sharing, negotiating, complimenting, taking turns. When you “catch him being good,” let him know you’re pleased.
- Use a behavioral report card. This type of contract sets children up for success by telling them what to do and when to do it, and by providing incentives. The social approval that results will eventually be its own reward.
Typically, a behavioral report card lets a child earn points for behaviors and trade them in for rewards. The best rewards are enjoyable activities — such as staying up late, taking a bubble bath, or renting a video — rather than money, food, or costly toys.
- Promote social skills everywhere. Children with ADHD have trouble applying skills learned in one situation to other situations. To help your child generalize social skills, help him to practice in a variety of different settings and with different people — on the playground, at a bowling alley, at the homes of friends. Begin by prompting the behavior — reminding him which skills to use, then monitoring and reinforcing the behavior with specific praise, such as “Teddy, I love the way you let Nate pick the first game. That’s a great way to keep friends.”
- Coordinate the coaches. Make sure that coaches, counselors, grandparents, and sitters know which social skills you’re working on, and know how to prompt, notice, and reinforce desired behaviors. The more your child practices these skills, the more likely that he’ll continue to use them when school starts again in the fall.