My Child Can’t Make Friends & Keep Them – What is Wrong With Her?

By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed. PCC

Your child has worked all year preparing for a school play, after the play he leaves without speaking to another person. You watch your child pester her friends and brag until the kids visibly shrink away.   And as you watch you think why my child can’t make friends.

You are ashamed but you feel anger, shame and deep frustration with your child. You have endless talks with her but she just doesn’t get it.

 

No One Should Struggle To Make a Friend

Parents are often concerned about how ADHD impacts schooling and homework, but making a friend is frequently what is on the child’s mind. When I told that eight-year-old that sat in my office that day that there was a possibility that if he learned how to change his approach he could make more friends, he beamed! And that is when I set out to make sure that no child would ever be left to struggle alone to make a friend. Thus the Play Better Plan and subsequently, my book, Why Will No One Play With Me was born.

As much as you love your child, you know that he cannot spend every Saturday night with you for rest of his childhood. Of course you see the flaws and you also know him best—the funny, lovable kid that you wish everybody knew. Unfortunately, that is not what other kids see.

You have painfully watched your child struggle over the years. Maybe your kindergartener can’t sit still in school or he is too loud and the other kids are put off. Or your fourth-grade child can’t look other kids in the eye. Maybe it’s your eight-year-old that doesn’t transition well and has a meltdown every time you ask her to leave a play date and this discourages the parents from inviting her back.

Why is it so hard to make a friend? I’m sure you’ve talked to him about his behavior, begged and bribed him to be better, but odds are, none of these tactics have worked. Your child wants to get along. He wants to make a friend. He just doesn’t know how.

Social Skills Don’t Always Come Naturally

Child development experts describe children who have a hard time understanding social cues and managing their behavior as having social skills deficits, or weaknesses. It is hard for them to read social cues accurately or understand the unspoken rules of social relationships or play. It is hard for them to adapt their behavior in response to other kids or as a play situation changes. Without those skills, it is hard to make a friend.

 

Your Child’s “Hub” Is Unevenly Developed

Social skills weaknesses are caused by a wide variety of factors, but the most common is that the brain’s network of executive functions is unevenly developed. Executive function is the hub of skills such as attention, memory, organization, planning, and other cognitive or critical-thinking skills, self-regulation, metacognition (the big-picture, birds-eye view), and the ability to modify our behavior in response to others to achieve a goal.

These are the basic skills every child needs to function well in the social world. In a nutshell, if a child’s executive function social skills are weak, then he has a harder time understanding and managing social interactions. These problems show up in:

·       what children pay attention to in a social setting

·       what they notice about their friends’ needs and reactions

·       how they respond to disappointment or manage other emotions

·       how they think about friendship

·       how they react to new or shifting social situations

 

Play is the first and most natural thing all kids do. It’s that basis for learning. Social behavior is best learned by playing with others. But when your child does not naturally understand how to make friends- then she needs direct instruction and coaching to make friends.  Here is where they learn how their behavior affects others; they practice seeing other points of view and learn how to get along and make a friend.

The Play Paradox- Play Less Equals Less Social Skills

Today, children don’t get as many spontaneous social interactions. This loss of free playtime has impacted the child’s ability to learn these lessons naturally through “practice time.” For those with executive function challenges, the impact is greater.

As the gap widens, these children often become socially isolated. Usually those with the greatest needs are those getting the least opportunity creating a huge challenge for the child and parent.

The good news is that social skills can be developed just like any other skill. Scientists have discovered that when children with social challenges engage in skill-building activities on a consistent basis, they can learn to interact effectively with other in a social setting.

No matter how hopeless you feel today, your child’s friendship challenges are far from insurmountable. With your help and guidance, your child can build social awareness, improve executive function skills, and learn how to make and keep friends.

How Will Coaching Help My Child?

As a parent, you are on the frontlines trying to help you child with social dilemmas, but until now, haven’t had the resources to properly manage the challenges. Coaching is the process of teaching and practicing social skills with your child. You are helping them with the basic skills they need to make a friend.

Think about sports for a minute. A child has a coach to help with basketball skills and the rules of the game. The coach demonstrates and models the drills that need to be done, observes the players and gives feedback and encouragement.

If They Could, They Would.

Children with social skills weaknesses need help learning those basic skills to participate socially so they aren’t doing something wrong and getting pulled off to the bench.

When your child seem oblivious to the feelings of others or to the way his behavior affects how they treat him, it might seem logical to lecture longer or louder until he gets it. If that has not been working for you and you would like to see different results, the shift is easier than you think.

Coaching your child to better social skills is not complicated or hard. You can do this! As a parent who is always on the frontlines with your child, you have an advantage over anyone else as a consulting coach. It’s those teachable on-the-spot moments that make a parent’s coaching so valuable.

 

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/five-words-that-will-change-your-childs-lifeand-your_b_5a5e3207e4b01ccdd48b5fd3?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0c

 

Your Child Will No Longer Be Alone

You have already been putting forth huge efforts to improve your child’s social status, but nothing has brought about any lasting change. With basic coaching techniques, all of that changes. “Coach” at the end of the day is just another word for parent with a game plan.

 

My new book, Why Will No One Play With Me? will teach parents how to coach their child through any social problem. Be sure to take my new checklist to determine if your child needs social skills help at carolinemaguireauthor.com.

Pause Saves The Day!

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!

Raising the Consistently Inconsistent Kid

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.

Everyone is Working on Something

“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.

The Giant Paddington Bear

My first real coaching experience was at age 13 with my cousin Aiden (not his real name). I was his nanny that summer. Aiden was 5 years old. His parents taught at a prestigious boarding school every day during the summer, and I was tasked with being his guardian. Despite my age, I felt like his protector rather than his playmate. I shepherded Aiden all over Surrey, England.

Aiden was bright, intuitive, and the largest 5-year-old on record. Because of his size and his hyperactivity, he created a kind of tilt-a-whirl effect wherever he went. When he bumped a shelf at a small shop, it would cause seismic shifts. When he completed an energetic canon ball into a pool, it created havoc with other swimmers. And when he played a little too enthusiastically, it upset other children. I wanted Aiden to be successful and not to be constantly in trouble. He was fun and had a great sense of humor.

But when he played, his impulsive behavior often got in the way. In addition, Aiden could not really control his body in the post office or in line at the bank. He needed to move at all times, and the compulsion presented a problem in certain settings.

When we visited London, Aiden saw a giant Paddington bear. And somehow I knew he would do anything for that bear. So I created my first reward program. I made a chart on poster board and placed it above his bed in the palatial Victorian mansion that housed the school. In order to win the bear, Aiden had to engage in specific behaviors for a set amount of time. We talked through these desired behaviors and rehearsed them. I even developed cues to remind him of his goals while we were out.

Aiden quickly began to flourish. He was eager for the check marks on the chart, willing to listen, and motivated to do better each time we went out. We discussed his progress daily while eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and fantasizing about the giant Paddington bear in London.

By the end of the summer, Aiden had earned that bear, and I had learned my first important coaching lesson: reward programs can change behavior. I am happy to report that Aiden is now a flourishing and successful young man.

 

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