On the day of my daughter Lucy’s dance recital, my whole family was a wreck. Lucy woke up at 4 am and graciously woke up the rest of the household with her. Her anxiety had reached peak levels, and she bounced into our bedroom at full speed, shaking us awake with her high energy.
I tried everything I could think of to calm her and help her back sleep, but nothing was working. By 9 am, I was begging her to nap. I knew we were in trouble. I could foresee the day ahead: there’d be lots of tantrums. Every little unfulfilled request would end in tears. The dance recital was going to be a disaster.
Lucy is the kind of child who loves dancing, but she finds her weekly class “boring.” She is consistently inconsistent in the way she treats practicing routines, and she struggles with focus. My husband and I tried an experiment this year; we kept Lucy in a class with younger children instead of moving her up a level with the rest of her classmates. The next level up was attended by mostly eight-year-olds, and I knew a six-year-old with ADHD couldn’t pretend to be eight. We wanted to see if this decision would create a more even playing field. So far, it had seemed to work.
But now, it was recital day—the big test of this experiment. Usually, Lucy loved recital day. She would come alive, ignited by the anticipation of having an audience. However, this morning, an unmistakable sense of doom permeated the house. Would Lucy have the confidence she needed to perform? Or would she cave in to her anxiety?
I continued to try to create peace for her as the day progressed. We snuggled and listened to a book on tape, ate her favorite healthy snacks, and talked about what she loved about dancing. She seemed to be doing better, but as we were preparing to leave for the performance, Lucy became absolutely frantic.
Then, I remembered a simple tool that I use with some of my ADHD clients. I retrieved a laminated copy of the simple PAUSE button pictured below, a concept developed by my good friend and colleague, David Giwerc (Founder of the ADD Coach Academy).
I handed the PAUSE button to Lucy. I explained how she needed to pause, calm her breathing, and re-connect to her prefrontal cortex, the part of her brain that regulates behavior and utilizes logical thought analyses to help her make good decisions. I told her that if she felt like she was forgetting her steps, she could hit that pause button, and she would be able to calm down and remember her routine. We practiced pausing and breathing several times before we left.
After finding my seat in the audience, I prayed. Like every parent, I wanted my child to do her best, show off her hard work, and be happy with herself. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed in front of her other classmates, the ones who had moved on to the next level. Right before she went on stage, I saw her in the wings. There she stood in her tutu, her cheeks rosy with makeup. She closed her eyes and breathed. She paused. And then she came out and danced her little heart out. She nailed the routine, down to the last plié!
The PAUSE button has worked for many ADHD children, including Lucy. It is such a powerful tool that I couldn’t help sharing it with you on my blog today. PAUSE encourages children to STOP irregular behavior and access the prefrontal cortex, allowing them to utilize their logical thought processes before acting. The power of the PAUSE is that it connects children with their prefrontal cortex and allows them to rationally observe highly charged emotional situations. By pausing, children can accomplish the following tasks:
Breathe and connect to their prefrontal cortexes, allowing them to use their logical thought processes.
Calm down and get a hold of their emotions.
Boss their bodies and stop any physical movement that may be causing problems.
Think of solutions to their upsetting problems or situations.
If you plan on using PAUSE with your child, I’d suggest creating a visual cue or code word. The PAUSE button symbol seems to be very popular with kids, and I often print them out and laminate them for younger children, who like the physicality of “pushing” the PAUSE button. Older kids may prefer a code word or phrase, such as “Please take a moment to pause.” PAUSE allowed my daughter to process what was going on, analyze her emotions, and pinpoint her best response options before jumping on stage. Like Lucy, I know your children could benefit from PAUSE!
Does parenting a child with ADHD stress you out? It does for me, at times. While I know it’s hard to manage your anger when things feel like they’re spinning out of control, the following tips will help you as a parent manage your anger and move toward a better outcome for both you and your child.
Does this Scene Feel Familiar?
Your daughter is late for karate, but she has to run back into the house because she didn’t put her karate belt in her gym bag. While she was saying “bye” to the dog one more time before running out of the house, the dog squeezes through the door and is loose. Now you have to put the dog back in the house; you’re late, you’re tired and stressed, and your emotions are running amuck.
Stop the Cycle of Emotional Reactivity
As the parent of a child with ADHD, you’ve probably had times when you were pushed over the edge. You know the frustration that builds in your body as you pulse with anger, your emotions percolate, and then … you erupt.
Notice your own body signals. Try to understand what’s happening in your own body – how your anger shows up. Everyone has a point when they can get too angry and lose a bit of control, and the trick is to start noticing the signs that happen in your body before you cross the that line. This means taking your own emotional temperature. Once you notice the initial irritation, focus on identifying strategies to help keep you in control, strategies you can pull up in the moment, like breathing deeply, listening to music, or pausing to consider whether the incident is big or little deal in the grand scheme of things. Use self-talk to move toward a calmer state. If you take a parent “time out” before you reach your top level of frustration, you will be able to deliver your message in a way that will improve your effectiveness as a parent.
Don’t give punishments in anger. Dial in the anger and take a pause, and avoid throwing out nuclear punishments. Model positive emotional regulation, instead. Take some time when you are upset, and wait to respond until you are calm. Typically punishments rendered when you are in the “thick of it” can be too much, and often you’ll end up having to backtrack. With unjust consequences, you actually dilute the effectiveness of the punishment. Children have a fierce sense of what’s fair, and when their parents have been unjust, the problem snowballs … and children are less likely to take responsibility for their own mistakes.
Pick your battles. This does not mean that you do not have to ignore all behaviors and let your children rule the roost. But you should think in terms of prioritizing behaviors. Understand which behaviors are being worked on, and which ones can wait to be addressed. Also consider which behaviors are important to the happiness and well being of the family. For example, if it’s 7:30 p.m. and you know that asking your child to pick up a towel from the floor could result in a huge battle, consider letting it go this time. Let your child go to bed in a good mood, instead of spending 20 minutes arguing about a towel. If picking up the towel is a behavior you’re working on, then you can address it the next day when it is less likely to cause an upset. But ask yourself, “what’s most important right now?” and try to limit your corrections to what is essential.
Parenting a child with ADHD can be extremely rewarding; it can also be quite frustrating, and the rewards can be difficult to remember when the dog runs out the door and you are late to karate!
There are times when you think that you are the only family struggling to get it right. Many parents sacrifice their hobbies and free time to manage homework, plan meals and taxi their children to all of their many activities. Be sure to remember the importance of “me time” — time off to take care of yourself. It can help you manage your reactions and cope with the frustrating moments better. Go for a 10-minute walk, let your family know you are taking a “time out” and spend 20 minutes reading your favorite book. Even if it’s just little moments to breathe, they will improve your mood and how you manage the next wave of activity.
This article was originally published at ImpactADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.
One day last summer, my daughter arrived for her swim meet in great spirits, as if she could tackle anything. She danced around with her friends, red-cheeked with excitement. When her group was called, she got up on the block, adjusted her goggles, and swam faster than any other six-year-old. She was in high gear, revved with self-confidence. And most importantly, she seemed to be very present. She was her best self.
But at her next swim meet the very next day, she was not interested in racing. It was raining outside, and she decided she wanted to watch Cake Boss and eat Chinese food. After I pried her away from the TV and loaded her into the car, I sensed doom. All the way to the meet, she kept telling me that the race would be canceled. When we arrived, she did not frolic with her friends as she had the day before. Her mood was ill-tempered and stormy. When I saw her take the block, I knew she was going to hold back. She finished the race, but she didn’t make very good time. Immediately afterward, she picked a fight with one of her friends, and I had to separate them.
If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, this scene probably sounds very familiar to you. For ten years, I have worked with hundreds of frustrated parents who have relayed similar experiences. Their children are erratic and inconsistent, and they don’t know how to improve or control their children’s behavior. Like these other parents, you probably understand how hard it is to raise an unpredictable child. One day your child is brilliant and confident, and the next day, your child is a raging ball of dark emotion. You never know which version of your child will be showing up to the party. Your child’s dramatic mood swings and undesirable behavior may also be causing to you to feel a wide range of emotions: anger, shame, confusion, guilt, or hopelessness. I’m here to tell you that these feelings are very common.
Many of my clients have been in the exact same position as you are right now. One thing I often tell parents of children with ADHD is this: from now on, expect the unexpected. Accept the fact that your child is going to be a consistently inconsistent child for a very long time. Go through a grieving process, if you have to, in order to move forward. Most likely, your child’s challenging behavior will arrive at the wrong moments—when you are least equipped to handle the drama. Try to come up with some coping strategies to calm yourself down when these challenging days inevitably arise.
After you have gained this knowledge and acceptance, you can begin the change process. Most inconsistent kids want to be good, but they don’t know how to be good. Ross Greene, a leading expert in child psychology, puts it this way: “Children exhibit challenging behavior when the demands being placed upon them outstrip the skills they have to respond adaptively to those demands.” In other words, when your child reacts explosively, your child lacks the skills needed to handle the situation. Inconsistent kids need help with building coping skills, seeing things from another’s perspective, and developing problem-solving strategies. These much-needed skills are called lagging skills.
One way you can identify your child’s lagging skills is by asking yourself the following question: “What is getting in the way of my child’s success?” Start by trying to figure out what the overall reasons are for your child’s inconsistency. Some kids freak out about timed events or tests. Some can’t handle peer pressure. Some don’t understand social boundaries. Some don’t know what to do when they make a mistake, and they fall apart and blow the rest of the race, recital, test, etc. Ross Greene’s lagging skills assessment can help you identify your child’s lagging skills.
Years ago, I had a high school freshman walk into my office, and he changed the way I looked at motivation forever. This student, we’ll call him Jackson, was a self-pronounced academic minimalist. When his English teacher asked him to write a paragraph about a book he read, he’d write only a paragraph. If a math test question required a two-sentence minimum explanation at how he arrived at an answer, he’d explain the concept in two sentences. If he was given a rubric for a social studies paper, he would only meet the requirements for a C grade. He was always shooting for the C, never for the A. He saw no value in academic work. School work was just something his parents wanted him to do. But like so many other unique kids, he was extremely intelligent and had many extraordinary talents.
Jackson had a fierce entrepreneurial spirit. He had started his own sneaker art business. People would pay him $80 to decorate their sneakers. In addition, he was also playing with the idea of starting a mural or street art business. He was very interested in figuring out how he could make a living from art. He also spoke fluent Spanish and was working at a boys and girls club for underprivileged children as a translator. When I first met him, he really wanted to go on a trip to Ecuador with the club.
Jackson’s parents were highly educated individuals; they both had Ph.D.s from an Ivy League school. They were extremely frustrated with Jackson’s lack of academic motivation. Jackson had failed out of boarding school, and now he was barely passing his classes at his public school. He would also consistently lie to them about turning in school work. They were worried that Jackson was ruining his chances of getting into a decent college with his “minimalist” attitude, and they didn’t approve of his interest in street art. His parents didn’t want Jackson to pursue his businesses; they wanted him to focus on getting good grades first, go to college, and then select a career. They also had flatly said “no” to the Ecuador trip because they refused to reward Jackson for his poor academic performance.
When I started coaching Jackson, I realized that the only way I would get him onboard with my academic coaching program was to use his passions as motivators. I had to get him to see what was in it for him (WIFM). Otherwise, he’d use his minimalist attitude in our sessions as well. I started by engaging Jackson in conversations about his goals and businesses. In the end, I negotiated a deal between Jackson and his parents. Jackson would do his school work and be honest about turning in assignments, and his parents would allow him to take art classes and pursue his sneaker business. If he improved his grades over the course of a year, he’d also be allowed to go on the Ecuador trip as a reward for good behavior. Every time we met, I connected the school work with his goals and interests. I helped him see how getting good grades would help him become a better entrepreneur, get his parents off his back, and give him more freedom and time to pursue his passions. Gradually, over the course of two years, Jackson went from a C student to an A student, and he and his parents were both happier.
Most kids like Jackson don’t realize that they need good grades in order to achieve their goals. They can’t see long-term like their parents can. So, pitching the idea that good grades lead to dream jobs doesn’t work with them. These kids need immediate reward. They need to see what’s in it for them (WIFM) now.
If you have a unique child who is unmotivated academically, consider using the WIFM strategy. Try to figure out what motivates your child. Your child’s motivator doesn’t have to be something that you think is an “acceptable” motivator. What comes up in my sessions all the time is that kids are motivated; they just aren’t motivated by what their parents want them to motivated by. For example, kids love Minecraft and parents hate Minecraft. But Minecraft time can be used as a reward for good behavior. If kids know that good behavior leads to more Minecraft time, they’ll exhibit better behavior.
Motivators can be anything from electronic time to not having to go to the learning center anymore. Below are some examples of motivators that have worked for my clients in the past:
Privileges – (walking home from school, choosing dinner foods, going to a concert, getting more electronic time, etc.)
Less Scrutiny – (graduating from an academic or social skills program, having less parental intervention, getting parents or teachers off their backs, etc.)
Freedom to Explore Passions – (time for art, music, video games, sports, etc.)
Tangible Rewards – (comic books, doll clothes, iPod gift cards, etc.)
When using the WIFM strategy, first start by asking your child open-ended questions. What does your child want? What are your child’s goals? Try to remain calm while your child explains his or her interests—no matter how far-fetched or cockamamie they may be. By allowing children to verbalize their goals, you are validating their opinions and creating partnerships. Together, choose rewards for good behavior, rewards that will immediately benefit your child. Also, clearly explain what your child will have to do in order to earn those rewards. For example, they may have to turn homework in on time consistently for one month, or they may have to raise their grade from a C to a B by next term. Lastly, try to show your child how improving their academic skills will help them get what they want in the long run too. By tying their daily work to their larger goals, you can help kids make the connection between the now and the future.
When Jackson realized that improving his grades would lead to immediate rewards and help him achieve his long-term goals, he saw a reason to try harder in school. His goals (not his parents goals for him) motivated him to become a better student. All children have to be willing to engage in the change process in order for change to occur. By using the WIFM strategy, you can also motivate your child to be a better student.
“My son will not sit in circle time,” one mother told me.
“The principal is constantly calling about my son’s behavior on the bus. What can I do? I am not even there,” another mother bemoaned.
“The teacher keeps calling me to complain about my daughter’s slow pace. When my daughter doesn’t get her class work done, the teacher keeps her in during recess to finish her work, and she has a meltdown every time,” another parent admitted.
Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? If so, you are not alone. Millions of parents across the U.S. receive phone calls from schools, teachers, coaches, and other parents regularly about their children’s irregular behavior. These types of well-intentioned calls can be very draining. Parents with challenging kids often hear too much about things their children do wrong. Sometimes, behavior is aggrandized and made to look like a larger problem than it needs to be. Society is very critical of kids today. Adults often expect kids to be adults, or they expect kids to change their behavior overnight.
If you are the parent of one of these unique kids, the negativity is probably starting to get to you. These criticisms may be making you feel stressed, frustrated, or even ashamed by your child’s behavior. Even though, deep down, you understand that change and growth takes time, you wish you could do something that would make your child “fit in” now so you didn’t have to watch your child struggle with the pain of being different.
Remember, other parents throughout the country are going through the same ordeal. Every child develops at his or her own pace. At a BBQ this summer, a mother of a challenging child said that what kept her sane was to remember that “everyone is working on something.” She went on to explain that even the well-behaved straight-A student in her son’s class was working on not fighting with her brother on road trips. Her son’s teacher was working on reducing her credit card debt. Her son’s coach was working on eating healthier and losing weight. By reframing the criticism in this way, you can put your child’s issues into perspective. Yes, your child may be lacking some skills, either socially or academically, but you can work on developing those skills—just like everyone else. Everyone is working on something.
When the phone calls start rolling in, and you are feeling overwhelmed, you can also use these tips to help you keep calm.
After you receive a phone call, do not talk to your kid about it the minute the kid walks in the door. The conversation isn’t going to go well if you talk to them when you are still angry and frustrated. Instead, wait a few hours and broach the conversation when you are in a positive frame of mind.
Next, allow your child room to explain what happened. You could say, “I heard you had a rough day. What happened?” Your child’s perspective may help you understand the situation more fully.
Get your child excited about and involved in the problem-solving process. Change comes easier when your child sees the value in changing.
Look for small wins and improvements. Real change takes years. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate your child’s small successes.
Find a network of support. Find other parents who are going through similar travails and talk to them about your frustrations.
Communications with teachers, administrators, coaches, and other parents should be more about problem-solving and less about blaming. If you feel like the phone calls are all about blaming, try to turn the tables and involve the caller in the problem-solving process.
When talking to teachers or administrators over the phone, ask for insight into why this problem happened. Because you can’t be at school to regulate your child’s behavior, teachers need to step in and encourage change at school as well. To get teachers to partner with you, you can ask them open-ended questions, such as, “What skills do you think my child needs to develop?” and “What are you going to do at school to help my child develop those skills?” and “What can I do at home to help my child develop those skills?”
If you receive daily phone calls from one adult, you could also ask for a summary of your child’s behavior at the end of the week so you don’t have to face the constant negativity.
If the same problem keeps popping up, try to arrange a meeting with your child’s school team (the principal, the teacher, the school counselor, etc.) and come up with a long-term skill-building plan together, keeping in mind that your kid is not going to change by next week.
Above all, when you receive a disheartening phone call, remind yourself of the big-picture perspective. You are not the only parent receiving these phone calls. You are not the only parent working with your child on big issues like behavioral problems, social skills deficits, or low academic performance. Everyone is working on something.
Gym class was 45 minutes of purgatory for me in elementary school. I could not catch a ball and I was just not athletic. Try as I might, I was last picked.
We have eliminated picking kids for teams and the torturous wait to see if anyone else could be the victim of being last picked, but here is the thing – we have not eliminated the core issue and perhaps we cannot.
Kids are still going to be picked on at school and we should not underestimate the power of that dread. As we are well into the school year, many kids are falling victim to the class bully. Others may be suffering from being left out of the “in” crowd, silently scolded for being different simply by the fact that they are on the periphery and are not welcomed into a group.
This is a lonely place, yet there is a solution. Don’t focus on the bully. Focus on the kid who is left out and his specific challenges with appropriate social skills. We can rightly report the bully, but many times the shunning is subtle and it leaves the left out kid with no recourse.
Now I was never going to be first pick, but it was social skills and being good at something else that saved me. So let’s look at a few things that kids can change.
Here are some suggestions:
1. Try to understand what social skills the child may need to develop. Then work on how he can develop those skills. This will take time but often kids are left out because they do not know how to present socially appealing behaviors.
2. Give him a place to be happy, to be a star in HIS comfort zone where his talents can shine through. A safe harbor or comforting atmosphere is important so the child can feel that he is talented, which will, in turn, help him feel better about himself, and help him preserve his self-esteem.
3. Create a plan for him to implement when he comes up against someone teasing or bullying him. Work on role-playing and rehearsing his response to his classmates who are picking on him. Be sure to protect the child. Make a point to visit the school so they are aware of the situation and can provide the physical safety he needs.
4. Arrange play-dates and activities with kids who have similar interests. This will provide him with another social outlet. When a child is unique they may have to seek a new pool of friends; having someone who they can connect with is crucial.
5. Talk openly with him about what he feels and help him name his emotions. Ask him questions about what his day is like. Brainstorm ways he can navigate the social scene more effectively. Often, left out kids do not know how to join a group or know how to approach potential friends.
It’s natural to worry about your kids. But remember, a child doesn’t need to be in the “in” group or be good at sports or invited to a lot of parties. What’s important at this stage is to help the child understand what his strengths are and where he can showcase them. By helping him build a toolkit so he can identify his emotions and understand his actions and how others perceive him, is a great start to identifying those positive social behaviors.
In college, I could not work in the library. And I could not work in my dorm room. Baffled by the dilemma, I bounced from space to space, trying to find a place I could focus. Instead, I ended up wasting time and getting frustrated. In high school, I had achieved all academic milestones in front of the television. I had worked night after night with the TV on, which was hardly an ideal strategy. I now know that too much TV can actually hinder information retention. Still, something about having that background noise helped me focus, and I couldn’t find a good substitute for that study aide in college.
Flash forward a decade. At a conference I attended, I decided to try to multi-task and get some blog posts done during one of the lectures. I sat at the back of the room and wrote blog post after blog post. I was surprised by how easily the words flowed out of me. Alone in my quiet office, I struggled to write even one paragraph. But in the back of a lecture hall, I was on fire!
When I returned home from the conference, I took a moment to analyze why this environment increased my productivity. And I remembered that one of the greatest tools that helps ADHD folks increase their focus is to have a body double. A body double is someone who sits with ADHD students as they tackle tasks that may be difficult to complete on their own. For example, when I run on the treadmill, I run much faster when someone is running next to me because I don’t want the other gym member to think I’m lazy. That gym member acts as my body double. A body double serves as a motivator and reminder to help keep ADHD people on task and accountable. While no one was watching me write those blog posts in the back of the lecture hall, the mere bodily presence of others and their noise had the same effect on me. Perhaps, being in the back of the lecture hall created a noise body double.
I had seen this phenomenon work for some of my other ADHD clients as well. White noise helped them focus when nothing else worked. When I was prepping to talk about this subject on Attention Talk Radio, my co-host, Jeff Copper, said, “Oh yeah. That works for me too. I call it the white noise experience.” Now, I use Copper’s term to describe this tool I have used with my kids consistently over the last decade.
The white noise experience occurs when a person’s focus and productivity is increased by background noise. For some people, the hum of music, activity, hustle and bustle, or other background noise helps sustain their focus. Most of the students I work with are searching for the right moment, the right place, and the right mood to get work done. Driven by distractibility, they often struggle to work in study spaces in which they “should” be able to work, but they end up not being able to accomplish even basic tasks. When I suggest a non-traditional study environment with plenty of white noise to these students, they miraculously blossom.
For example, I once had a client whom we’ll call Alice. Alice was an English major, and she had difficulties getting her work done on time. By the time she came to see me, she had a month’s worth of work backlogged. She had tried all the traditional study tricks. One day, I suggested she sit in the back of a lecture hall in another department—such as calculus or chemistry—a subject that wouldn’t peak her interest. She ended up attending an engineering TA session. During one forty-five-minute session, she was able to finish two assignments, which was a huge productivity leap for her. After getting permission from the engineering department, Alice started attending TA sessions regularly, and her backlog of work quickly disappeared.
If you or your child has had similar struggles, consider using the white noise experience to help increase your focus. Try different study environments that can provide non-distracting background noise, such as coffee shops, school gyms during game time, or parks on nice days. If you find yourself too distracted in those places, try putting on some instrumental music, using a white noise machine, or plugging in a noisy fan in your bedroom or office. I know that this advice may seem counterintuitive. Most people mistakenly assume that a student or professional with ADHD should work in a quiet space without any potential distractions so they can focus wholly and completely. However, time and time again, clinical practice has shown that the ADHD brain can actually function more efficiently with white noise present. Because everyone is wired differently, this tool may not work for every person with ADHD, but I strongly urge you to test it out!
One of my clients this week told me that social life is like a castle. The walls are just too high and too thick to climb and you cannot get in unless someone lets the draw bridge down.
So many kids feel this way. They do not know what to do – so at lunch they head for the library or to the bathroom to bide their time and hide out. Maybe you were one of these kids and you can relate to the feeling that the social world is just an insurmountable tower of terror. Kids and teenagers often share with me that they cannot figure out how to change things. They are unsure how to climb the tower walls or even cajole people to let the draw bridge down. And so they avoid social interactions all together.
Avoidance is a sign. Not a sign that the child does not care. Or a sign that he lacks motivation, is resistant, or is just uninterested in having friends, but a sign that he does not know how to break down the barriers so he can participate, or “join in”. Without a roadmap or help with his social plan, children and teenagers often shut down.
So I ask parents to reframe their thoughts about a child or teenager who avoids socialization. Hiding in one’s room playing video games is not always about a bad attitude. Sometimes children just do not know how to climb the walls of the castle and break in.
If you are waiting to see if things will change without help, let me share with you that they will not. The child alone does not have the skills yet to navigate this kind of change. They do not know how to enter the lunchroom and connect with their peers, and sit down and join a group.
Good news!! When children receive guidance and are provided with specific steps on how to navigate social situations to make friends, they build new skills and often become more interested in joining in.
You learned that your middle-schooler is skipping lunch to avoid the cafeteria. Should you address it head-on, giving her advice that she probably won’t listen to, or demand that she go to lunch? It is hard to know. The cafeteria is where everyone comes together to socialize and hang out. For a child with ADHD, lunch can be very challenging.
Social struggles are not restricted to school. Children have the same deficits at home, at stores, on the ball field, and in every life setting. Many kids want to improve their friendship skills, but don’t know how. That’s where you come in.
Working with your child to meet social challenges leads to behaviors that your child can use everywhere. The following strategies will help your child make friends – and move through the socially difficult years of adolescence more easily.
How do I help my son stop avoiding the school cafeteria?
Children avoid the cafeteria because they are bullied, but also because they don’t know how to interact with peers, join a conversation, or even where to sit.
> Debrief your child. Without telling your child he is doing anything wrong, ask open-ended questions to find out what he thinks is happening. Ask about whom he sits with, when he feels uncomfortable, or if there are friends he would like to sit with.
> Practice skills. Nothing is tougher for kids than joining a conversation that is in progress. Suggest a little detective work. Ask your child to go to lunch, listen to what everyone talks about, and report back. You and he can role-play conversations that build on the topics the group talks about most often.
> Get outside help. Avoidance is not a plan, so if your child can’t navigate social situations, have her work with a professional social skills group.
How can I help my child when she isn’t invited to class parties?
If a child isn’t invited to birthday parties, concerts, or other peer activities, it is time to team up and find out what might be causing the problem.
> Discuss things, without blame, to help your child diagnose why she isn’t fitting in. Walk her through her day at school and ask her to recount one or two of the social interactions she had – what she said to a classmate, how that child reacted – and discuss what she thinks she could have done differently.
> Talk about different types of friendship. Many children with social challenges try to make friends with kids who do not share their interests, or they misinterpret social cues and think any friendly person wants to be friends. Help your child understand different kinds of “friendships”: There are people you say hello to, acquaintances, people you interact with, and real friends. Brainstorm with her about ways to befriend children with whom she shares interests and who treat her well.
> Find ways to meet others with similar interests – social clubs, youth groups, and other interest-based activities. These places give your child a chance to socialize by talking about things the kids like in common.
How can I make group projects less intimidating for my daughter?
Group projects are tough for her because she has to contribute, advocate for her ideas, participate in the discussion, and present a final project. The following case study shows how to make group projects less challenging for your child.
Ali is 12 years old, and she hates group projects. She and her mom write the teacher asking for advice about what she can do better in the next group project. The teacher says Ali should speak up more and identify a role she would like to take on in the project.
Ali’s mom understands the unspoken social dynamics in play – children meet in large groups, and assumptions are made about Ali and what she might be able to do on the project. Ali is left out of the decision-making because she doesn’t speak up. Ali and her mom discuss the personalities within the group, their likes and dislikes, and so on. Ali puts together a social database about her partners in the group project, so she can talk more comfortably with her peers.
Ali does better socially when she has a plan. She and her mom look at the project rubric and discuss which components seem interesting and manageable to Ali, and decide what Ali would like to take on. They rehearse possible scenarios. Role-playing, and learning how to ask open-ended questions, helps Ali build the confidence to speak up during the group’s discussions.
With all the prep at home, Ali slowly overcomes her social struggles and plays an important part in the group. And she has a plan she can use for the next group project.
My son has lots of virtual friends, but how do I encourage him to develop friends he can talk with one-on-one?
Connecting to other people, adapting to their needs, and engaging in the give-and-take of friendship are important skills all kids need to learn.
> Let him have virtual friends. Facebook friends and Twitter buddies may be your son’s only friends right now, and you don’t want him to lose them.
> Talk to him about why he needs other friends. Ask your child what he likes about the virtual world. Find another activity that he may like – a course in robotics or computer coding – in which he will interact with people.
> Work on social strategies. Whether it’s engaging in chitchat, turning an acquaintance into a friend, or arranging to see people outside of school, it is essential that your son knows how to approach people. With consistent practice, he will get what you and every child wants: good friends.
This article was originally published at ADDITUDE. Reprinted with permission from the author.