Do I Need to Teach My Kid How to Make A Friend? I Never Needed That Kind of Support, Why Does He?

By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed. PCC

Everyone wants your child to have friends, be invited to parties, have sleepovers, have someone to sit with during swim practice and have the ability to make friends without your help.  But things are not going well, and you are watching from a distance while your child seems to sit alone or barge in to a group or dominates the conversation. And you wonder why can’t this kid just make friends?

Some kids learn social behaviors and just fit in and get along with others. And other children really struggle. And here is the paradox if a child does not play well with others then they are invited to play less and then they do not get the crucial opportunity to practice their social skills. And they lose confidence. We get confidence from doing and from practicing. And the longer this struggle goes on research tells us – the harder it is for children to move past this struggle.

 

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

 

Practice Makes Better

For most children practice makes everything better. BUT for children who struggle socially- they are often leery to practice or in a world of invitation only play dates- they do not have anyone to play with. And socially awkward children, quirky kids, shy kids and kids with challenging behaviors do not get invited to play or begin to opt out of play because they simply do not know how to produce the friendship behaviors that their peers desire.

The good news is that social skills can be developed just like any other skills and this means that no matter how bad things seem- your child’s social struggles can change. But to do this you must help your child. She won’t change these behaviors on her own. And she needs coaching to help her move forward.

When children are young, we coach them to throw a ball, swim, write thank you notes, shake hands and myriad other things. We do not expect our children to learn math by osmosis, but we often forget that learning social skills takes practice and work too. And this is no different. Children will not learn to make a friend on their own. We must help them.

 

But I Learned To Make Friends On My Own

You may be thinking – well I learned to make friends with no help. Maybe. But each child is unique and many children who struggle with friendship have  executive function weaknesses and this means they do not learn new social behaviors on their own. This is often because these children have executive function weaknesses. Executive functions are the management system of the brain – a series of processes that come together and help us:

·       Self-regulate

·       Focus attention

·       Manage emotions

·       Learn from past experiences

·       Adapt to new situations

·       Plan and prioritize

·       Think about the future

·       Self- monitor

·       Initiate tasks

 

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/understanding-executive-functioning-issues?gclid=CjwKCAjw1_PqBRBIEiwA71rmtV2Li_TGVeBijw4lNtQ7DMM7bpCLkK9-R1lOjnHfC_ToXyd0uXLhhRoC7goQAvD_BwE

 

These are all brain-based capacities directly affect how your child behaves in social situations.  And every child has a unique mix of executive function strengths and weaknesses. Executive function is not all or nothing there are degrees of impairment and these executive functions may explain your child’s baffling behaviors. For instance, your child cries and wants friends but when they come over, she ignores them, she tells you she wants to share but then during a play date she is bossy and tries to control everything her friend does. Your child may lack self-awareness and think he is friends with everyone, he may talk at people rather than with them, he may be too silly and too goofy and just invades everyone’s space.

This may be why your child needs support and direct instruction to learn to have successful socialization. And it may be why his behavior often seems  baffling and does not make sense.

 

Becoming Your Child’s Social Skills Coach

 

You may already be spending time trying to help your child with his social dilemmas. And you may face resistance from your child. That is natural. We all struggle to work on what is hard for us.

And your child may lack self-awareness due to his executive function weaknesses and he may not be aware of his own behavior and its impact on others. But you are the best person to help your child and let’s face it- you are on the front lines working with your child or teen every day.

You are already putting in huge efforts to help your child. Now we are going to shift the way you approach coaching your child, so you are more effective.

https://www.additudemag.com/help-child-make-friends-in-middle-school/

 

To become your child’s social skills coach, you must first understand that this may be a long journey -especially if your child is resistant to the conversation. And there are degrees of buy in from your child, she may not jump up and cheer or show enthusiasm to work with you. But there are degrees of buy in and if your child shrugs or answers your questions- this may be enough.

No matter what – do not surrender the conversation. As parents, we are engaged in difficult conversations, and we are not having them with someone who WANTS to have the conversation with us.

When we can step into their shoes and really explore this with them and continue to talk, then we don’t surrender the conversation. Continuing to have an open, collaborative conversation is essential to helping your child learn to make and keep friends.

 

5 Steps To Have Hard Conversations With Your Child

 

1.     Pave the Way

 

Having difficult conversations about challenging subjects can be hard for parents. You may ask yourself how do I get started?  Paving the way for the conversation is an important step. For young children its easier because they

 

2.     No Matter What They Say Empathize

 

Information is power. Often as parents, it is difficult not to react to what your child says. We’ve all launched right into blame, punishment, advice and, then the, “I told you so.” No matter what your child says — he skipped school, is avoiding lunch, or he broke the coffee table — let go of the desire to jump in and react. Take a moment to breathe, and then, listen. The larger goal is to gain your child’s trust, and it is more important than any minor rule infraction. Taking a moment to step back will help your child know that he can always feel comfortable coming to you.

 

3.     Reflect, Clarify and Be Curious

 

Paraphrasing what your child says and then repeating it back to him shows empathy and helps you clarify your child’s concerns. For example, he might declare that he believes that, “people should invite me to play—I shouldn’t have to approach them.” “Reflect” this statement back to him — “What I hear you are saying is that you won’t approach anyone; they must come to you.” By summarizing and repeating his statements, you allow your child to clarify, share more information, and to tell his interpretation of the statement. By being curious and trying to understand his perspective you invite him to be comfortable opening up to you.

 

4.     Don’t Impose Your Goals on the Situation

 

Ask your child questions and listen. Do not assume you know the reasons for your child’s behavior. Do not apply pressure and impose your own goals and agenda on the situation. Getting your child to feel comfortable talking to you is about hearing and waiting and showing confidence that your child has the capacity to learn and grow.

 

5.     Partner and Problem Solve With Your Child

 

Like any of us, children share more when they feel heard and understood. They can put their guard down, engage more readily in the coaching process, commit to developing their social skills, and invest in their success. When you allow for more of a two-way conversation, your child will be more comfortable opening up. Having a calm, open discussion in the heat of the moment allows your child to know that in the future, he can count on you as a partner rather than a judge.

 

Making friends is not an easy task for some children. But playing well with others is an essential life skill – as important as any other academic skill.

 

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.

 

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.

How Can I Get Through To My Kid That He Has To Stop Arguing With His Teachers So Much

By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed. PCC

You just received another text from your son’s teacher. He’s in trouble again for his outbursts and continuing to argue with his teacher. You’ve had numerous conversations with David, pleading with him to stop arguing, but nothing changes. 

When he gets home, you ask him about the encounter, and he seems to have no idea that he has been rude.  He tells you, “I wasn’t talking out of turn; the teacher just doesn’t get me.”  As a parent this makes you wonder if children with ADHD are more self-centered than other children. Of course not, however, some of the characteristics children with ADHD have can give the appearance of being rude and insensitive.

Some children with ADHD don’t have the perspective or ability to see how others interpret their actions and behaviors.  Take David for example – At first glance, you would see him as a bright elementary school boy. He looks easygoing and fun, but can’t stop butting heads with his teachers. He won’t stop arguing. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, David is right, and he will argue and debate it until he gets in trouble.

Children like David don’t have the capacity to understand how they come across when interacting with teachers and other adults. Their intentions are good, but they don’t really know how to tune in and “walk in the other person’s shoes.”

When feeling bored, overwhelmed, hungry, tired or face a self-regulating challenge, ADHD children like David can unintentionally forget social rules and without meaning to, come across as uncaring and bad mannered. They struggle with interpreting social cues, but with proper support, they CAN work to develop a better perspective.

Taking other people’s perspective and understanding that other people have an inner emotional life and being able to detect that point of view is known as Theory of Mind.  When someone has Theory of Mind it means they can detect the perspective, emotions and understand what motivates others. 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/socioemotional-success/201707/theory-mind-understanding-others-in-social-world

Having Theory of Mind means understanding that other people’s thoughts and feelings may be different from your own. How many times have you heard someone tell you, “Think before you speak?” Children who do not have the ability to read the minds of others do not hear or notice that their tone, misguided humor, continual monologue, or how abrupt subject changes may alienate others. Parents are baffled as to what to do.

The Path to Change

When children don’t stop arguing, it is often because they do not easily interpret social cues and tune into the mental states (emotions) of others. They misread behavior and therefore do not understand how their physical and verbal actions affect other people. Teaching children Theory of Mind means helping the ADHD child consider others’ point of view, perspective, desires, motives, and intentions. 

 

Children with Theory of Mind Can:

·       Interpret how their teacher and friends feel

·       Decode the information in the environment

·       Envision someone else’s reaction to a behavior or event

·       Attribute beliefs and desires to someone

·       Walk in someone else’s shoes

·       Predict actions based on a person’s knowledge

·       Understand false beliefs

·       Recognize what information other people know

·       Uncover the speaker’s intentions and inferred message

·       Anticipate that one’s actions provoke reactions from other people

To teach Theory of Mind effectively, parents need to understand the open-ended questions technique.

So what exactly are open-ended questions and how can you use them with your child to get him to stop arguing? Open-ended questions are for parents who witness the sharp tones and behavior of their children – and are looking for a sound way to develop Theory of Mind. This style of questioning allows the parent to use a type of coaching communication technique that leads the child through a process to look at the feelings of others.

It provides the child with perspective to be able to examine his own behavior and choices. Children can learn how to alter their behavior and using open-ended questions is one way to help those who lack Theory of Mind to create a greater awareness of the mindset of others.

This coaching technique also eliminates a lot of unnecessary friction, for example, rather than telling David, “You need to stop arguing with your teachers,” think about asking, “How do you think your teacher feels when you speak out of turn and are always arguing with her?”  This coaching technique will allow the child to consider that other people have thoughts about his behavior and that his behavior can negatively or positively affect others – this builds self-awareness and Theory of Mind.

With proper support, parents can learn to effectively use the open-ended questions technique, initially taught by ADHD professionals. This is not a cure, there is no magic here, but used consistently, it does show a sustained improvement in the child’s Theory of Mind.

Step 1:

Open-ended questions use the words who, what, when, where, how, and why. They ask, rather than tell.  The process looks like this:

a) David, who thinks all facts are worth arguing about, even with adults, and often will go so far as to correct other adults. 

b) Ask David, “How do you think I feel when you correct me?” It can be beneficial to have him look at your face and interpret what you are currently feeling.

c) Then, no matter what the answer is, even if it’s a shrug and an, “I don’t know,” continue to ask him, “What do you think the appropriate behavior should have been?” 

 

This begins to help the child think about what the unspoken social rules were and what they are expected to do in the future.  The questions help the child with ADHD pause and reflect on other people’s state of mind.   In the minivan or on the go continue to ask him questions when his conversations present as forgetting other people’s feelings.

Questions can center on:

·       What do other people feel?

·       What is the reaction to their behavior?

·       What did the other people’s facial expression tell them about their feelings?

·       What was the behavior that would make people feel positive about them?

·       What was the appropriate behavior in the situation?

 

The open-ended question coaching technique walks the ADHD child through interpreting other people’s point of view to examine how their actions and behaviors affect others.  Self-regulation and other coping skills may need to be practiced to help children put their best foot forward, but the key is to help the child consider how they come across to those in every day interactions.

Step 2: 

On an ongoing basis and on the spot when the child is rude or dismissive, begin to ask him open-ended questions that allow him to reflect on his actions and how they might make other people feel.

Additional questions to insight conversation can include:

•        How do you think your classmates feel when you can’t stop arguing?

•        What do you think happens when you don’t show the teacher respect?

•        What were the circumstances and how did you adjust?

•        What were the typical behaviors in that environment?

•        What did you notice about the teacher?

•        What could you do when you are bored?

•        What happens if your tone is dismissive?

•        What do you think your peers think when you are bored disrupt class?

 

The main questions center around helping the ADHD child who struggles to mind read, to consider the perspective or point of view of other people. The idea is to ask questions! Open-ended questions help the ADHD child learn to consider what is typical or appropriate behavior in that situation. It also provides a path to better observe the people, actions, body language, environment and social rules around the child.

The reciprocal relationship between tuning into other people’s perspective or mental state and how those people treat us in return is a game changer. ADHD children, who can’t stop arguing, and therefore tend to dominate conversations, can learn to be able to interpret and consider the feelings of others. It’s a journey, and consistency is the key. Parents should find comfort in knowing that all ADHD children benefit from patient and nurturing parents and the open-ended questions technique is well suited to parents who wish to help their children turn social struggles into positive outcomes.

Become a Social Observer

To help your child stop arguing, help him become a social spy and let him see it first hand. Social spies observe people in different settings and then record their observations about social cues including, vocal volume, tone, eye contact, physical presence, interrupting, arguing, etc.

·       Build awareness

·       Go to a public place, hotel lobby, book store, mall

·       Watch and notice the social cues

·       Identify what unspoken rules the environment dictates

·       Create an image of positive social behavior to navigate toward

The Polite Pretend

Many children with ADHD can quickly become bored inside the classroom, leading to outbursts or just checking out altogether. Some will provoke and argue with the teacher to be funny or get a reaction from friends. Rather than lecturing your child, talk with him about the problem. Start by saying, “I’ve noticed that you sometimes struggle to stop arguing with your teacher and I understand you don’t mean to be disrespectful.” Ask him what happened in the specific situation. 

 

Talk to him about things that do not interest him and this dilemma of being polite. Remain neutral and calmly discuss why pretending to be polite is necessary. Rather than just telling him that he has to do this, use questions to help him reflect such as:  

·        What he can do during a conversation when he feels bored or when he’s too tired to participate in the conversation?

·        What happens in the conversation when her tone becomes dismissive and argumentative?

·        What are the benefits of a polite pretend?

Reading the Room

In each environment, there are expectations and unspoken rules. To present the best face to the world, you have to decipher those expectations by reading the room. Help your child understand that how he behaves sends messages to the world, which ultimately impacts how he is received.

 

Any social situation is just a problem to be solved. If you build those skills, your child will have the opportunity to improve his social awareness, stop arguing, and develop better relationships with his teachers.

 

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.

 

5 Signs Your Child Is The Classroom Bully

No child is perfect. Most parents, at some point, have seen their child be mean to other kids. But if you’re worried that your son or daughter might be a bully at school because they seem to have a habit of putting others down, there are some subtle signs of bullying you should watch out for.

Maybe, in the past, you’ve gotten a phone call from your child’s school. Your son has pushed another kid’s face into some pasta at lunch. He has been reprimanded and is in trouble again.

Or you saw your daughter be snarky to other girls at a classmate’s birthday party and heard her say snide things, like “We can see you are a genius” or “I’m trying to picture you with a personality” to other kids.

Perhaps your child’s peers do his bidding, or you overhear a comment from another child to her mother at a coffee shop — “Casey says I can’t be a sweater-saurus at Halloween” — and you wonder, “Wait, is that like MY child telling other people what to do?”

Overall, you think, “Heck, no, this is not happening.” But sadly it is.

No one ever thinks of themselves as the parent of a bully; no parent wants their child to be a bully to others.

We spend a lot of time thinking about those who are bullied, but as a parent, one of the loneliest experiences is to be the mom or dad of a child you suspect may be bullying other kids and not knowing where to turn or what to do.

Children who turn to bullying others often do not mean to be cruel, but things happen that may lead to them eventually putting others down.

This can be their own low self-esteem, struggles at home, impulsivity, poor relationships and connection to others, poor control over their emotions, social discomfort, a desperate need to fit in, their experience being punished all the time, seeing violence or aggression, or struggles at school.

Being aggressive can become a lifelong pattern that will hurt your child’s future. Part of being a parent is playing detective and trying to figure out what your child needs from very little signs.

If you’re worried your child is a bully, here are 5 signs of bullying behavior that signal your kid needs help.

1. A lack of empathy for others

You notice your child does not try to walk in other people’s shoes. They don’t show compassion or empathy and don’t think about other people. They may blame other people and tend not to take responsibility for their actions.

More than their peers, your child just does not seem to worry about the feelings of other people or their impact on others. This lack of empathy may be a sign that your child is a bully.

2. Obsessing about fitting in

Some kids are very acutely aware of the social hierarchy and social status. Thus, they feel tremendous pressure to fit in. They may try to manage and orchestrate control and are obsessed with their social image, social media, and they spend too much time worrying about how they are perceived.

This can lead your child to make choices to fit into, making them turn into a bully, even though they don’t mean to.

3. Previous experiences with anger, violence, or bullying

Your child has experienced and witnessed bullying, violence, anger, and punishment. They’ve been pushed around so they see aggression and punishment as the answer to their problems.

Since your child has been a victim or has experienced injustice or witnessed adults using aggressive behavior, they may turn to this as their go-to reaction. This may not be their intention and as a parent, you can help him find another way.

4. A tendency to put other people down

You notice your child tends to put other people down while building themselves up. They point out flaws in others and jokes about them, as well as insult them.

Low self-esteem, fear, and even feeling overwhelmed can make some kids become dismissive and put other down others. This is a sign that your child needs your help feeling better about themselves so they don’t resort to bullying others.

5. Recurring behavior problems

Your child struggles with controlling their emotions. They have a history of behavior problems and you notice their friends also share these characteristics.

Behavior problems may mean that your child doesn’t mean the actions they take. Instead, they are impulsive during fights, leading them to act like a bully.

Bullying is a complex issue and parents are not to blame. 

If your child is struggling and becoming a bully, you can help by spotting these 5 signs when he or she is acting up. As a parent, you can help them pick themselves up and adopt better behaviors so that putting other people down doesn’t become a life-long habit.

This article first appeared on Your Tango and has been republished with permission.

There is Always a Label

A client brings me a video of a school play where a hyperactive kid rocks back and forth, fidgets and dances around. It is hysterical, but I understand painful as a parent to watch. Unlike other kids her age, the little girl knows her lines and her part. During the big scenes, the child is front and center. She lights up the stage and she has charisma. She twists her hair and rocks on her heels, but she also talks at age six with a British accent and steals the show.

Her mother even after watching this with me is so frustrated. She feels her daughter “won’t act normal”. I have heard this story many times. The kid who does not stand in line. The parents who wonder why a child who cannot self-regulate and touches other kids in the hallway or whose behavior is “too much”. My client with the video tape fears labels.

I hear this a lot. She does not want the ADHD label because of the stigma. I do get that, but I will admit to you – there is always a label.

These kids are often characterized as difficult or disruptive. Other parents offer unhelpful and unwarranted advice, many times unfairly judging the behavior as if the child is trying to be this way, but there is always a label. When a kid is placed in the hallway or has to go to the principal every day, there is a label. When they are reprimanded time and time again until they see no point in trying – they have a label, and it’s not good.

I wish there were no labels. In the land of unicorns and fairies, there would not be. The fact is that other parents, educators, and communities label children who struggle with behavior. Often the label is to “type” the kid as a class clown, odd, out of control, or worse.

People resist diagnoses and labels, but sometimes we need to reframe our thoughts. If the label says that the kid is not willfully being difficult, that he is doing his best but that he cannot boss his body. Then isn’t that a better way to think of someone than to think of them as difficult or challenging?

We May Have Eliminated “Last Picked” But Not “Picked On”

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. 

A Castle with Walls Too Thick to Penetrate

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.

Birthday Parties, the Cafeteria, and Other Social Obstacles

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.

Your Child Isn’t Defiant — His Skills Are Lagging

You wouldn’t expect a child to hit a baseball before learning how to swing the bat. Many children who struggle with behavioral challenges don’t have the skills they need to do what’s expected of them, and unfortunately, ADHD behaviors can lead to harsh — and mistaken — assumptions. There is the child who barges into a room, disrupting the conversation, or the one who laughs at a joke after everyone else has moved on in the conversation. These children may appear rude or awkward, but not all we see is what it seems.

How ADHD’s Executive Dysfunctions Impact Behavior

Certainly there are times when a child seems stubborn or selfish, but neuroscience suggests that it is a lack of skills, specifically the brain-based “executive function” skills, that hold him back — not willfulness or laziness. Executive function is the brain’s hub of skills — memory, organization, planning, self-regulation, and the ability to modify our behavior in response to others.

When these skills lag, advice about pushing through does not apply. Blaming and shaming only make matters worse. This is especially significant for children with ADHD, due to their complex differences in the brain’s pathways and processes for attention and behavior.

The conversation about ADHD and executive function skills most often focuses on academic skills. What’s missing, however, is recognition of how executive function affects social behavior. Social challenges are often traced back to underlying ADHD. Read on to learn how — and then, the next time your child’s behavior frustrates or baffles you, remind yourself: “If he could, he would.”

Kids Want to Please Their Parents

Generally speaking, children do not want to fail at being a kid or to disappoint their parents. Every child wants to succeed; every child wants to grow up to become a capable human being. The idea of “would if he could” is a lens through which you look at your child and reset your understanding of him. Once your child begins to develop executive function skills — whether by getting homework done or managing big emotions — his success will motivate him to want more.

[Self-Test: Does Your Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

Set aside discouraging assumptions about your child’s behavior and replace them with If he could, he would. A child needs continued support to navigate the academic learning curve and the social learning curve at the same time.

Here are some steps to turn this approach into action:

  1. Believe that your child has the capacity to learn, and that he has good intentions — because it’s true!

  2. Go for responses that encourage, illuminate, and engage.Recognize the qualities of character and effort that your child shows: when he shows empathy for someone, takes pride in something he does, or rebounds from a failure. Use comments that begin with “I noticed…” or “You showed…” to highlight the positive.

  3. Identify sources of stress and distraction for your child, and find specific ways to minimize them. Stress in one area leads to stress in other areas.

  4. Talk with your child about what he thinks is going on. Show curiosity and respect him as the expert on his own feelings and perspective. By doing so, you give him a chance to practice connecting internal feelings to outward behavior. That’s the executive function skill he needs to change behaviors that aren’t working for him.

It’s easy for a child to lose heart in the struggle to learn and grow. Show confidence in the qualities she brings to her challenges. The truth is that everyone is working on something.

[8 Confidence Builders for Kids with ADHD]

ADHD Success Story: Matt Overcomes School Hurdles

Matt, who is six, was barely through mid-autumn in his first-grade class when he started to not want to go to school. He had meltdowns when it was time to get in the car, or on the way. He hated school and his mother could understand why. He spent most of the day either making trouble in class or being reprimanded for it.

We talked with Matt about what was so hard about the school day, and we identified some of the problems: Matt had reading problems that needed to be addressed with one-on-one tutoring. Stress of any kind overwhelmed him, whether related to reading, communicating about a difficulty, social anxiety, or upsetting interactions with his parents and teachers. Matt needed help with his communication and self-regulation skills.

When Matt’s challenges were acknowledged, his parents got the help he needed to address them. Matt began to develop skills, and his behavior improved. Matt wanted to do well in school, and once he had what had been missing, he could.

[Free Handout: A Parent’s Guide to Ending Confrontations and Defiance]

This article was originally published in ATTITUDE. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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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