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.

 

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