This is a guest post by Kristi Lazzari
Kristi Lazzari is a chaotic mom and freelance writer living in rural Alabama. She is passionate about music, books, motherhood and mental health awareness. She writes for NewLifeOutlook|ADHD and on her blog, ADHD Kristi & Co.
If you have a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you’re probably all too familiar with the social ups and downs and pains they go through trying to fit in. We love our children’s quirks and little eccentricities, but their peers don’t always appreciate them the way we do.
Why is My Child Struggling to Fit in?
It’s true that having ADHD comes with many gifts, like creativity and intelligence, but there are pitfalls as well. We can miss social cues, interrupt when others are speaking, be forgetful, impatient and withdrawn, or ramble on in a steady stream of unrelated topics.
These social foibles can make it nearly impossible to fit in with our peers. For children, the feeling of not belonging can be devastating.
What Can We Do?
As parents, we wish we could make everything in our children’s lives smooth sailing, but we can’t. What we can do is help them learn what to look for in others and what to watch out for in themselves.
We never want to make them ashamed of who they are or feel like they aren’t good enough, but we can encourage them to be respectful of others and to be kind and gracious — something all parents should strive to teach their children.
I recently talked to some other parents and asked them what things most helped their ADHD children with fitting in and being socially responsible. Answers ranged with the age of the child, but there were a few answers most had in common:
- Role-play with your child to help them learn empathy. Take turns being on different sides of the “problem” areas and practice appropriate responses.
- Teach conversation courtesy. Practice making and keeping eye contact during conversation, and help them learn to pause before responding when someone is speaking to help curb impulsive interrupting.
- Create structure for play dates. Unstructured downtime with others can be a recipe for disaster. We don’t want to micromanage play time, but having a plan and some structure will help. Choose a few games or activities ahead of time and keep things flowing.
- Instead of telling your child to “play nice,” give them specific instructions, such as reminding them to take turns or to share.
Helping your child recognize social cues, like when friends are bored, or to recognize when they’ve told a joke too many times can be helpful. We don’t want to change who they are, but we do want to help them notice the things that their minds are sometimes too fast to process.
For many children structured extracurricular activities are lifesavers. What is your child interested in? Chances are getting them involved in a group of like-minded children will help.
If your child loves sports, teams are a great way to not only get exercise but to be an integral part of a group. And structured activities aren’t just limited to sports. Choir, theater, band, gymnastics and dance are just a few others.
My daughter, who is nearly 14, is interested in aviation, metal music and art. She’s always been a bit too quirky for the kids in her small school, where very few are interested in the things she is. She has never had much in common with any of the kids she knows.
She recently had a chance to join Civil Air Patrol Cadets and from the moment she walked in the door, she felt like she had found people like her. Not only can she discuss airplanes and engineering, she has even found a few kids who enjoy some of the other things she does.
She looks forward to her weekly meetings, and even though her anxiety levels creep up as she learns the drills and the correct way to address her senior officers, she is able to remain open minded because the other cadets have been so welcoming. She is constantly amazed that they don’t see her as “different.”
It can be difficult at times to find a place where our amazing children can truly be themselves, but as I’ve always told my daughter, if you follow your interests, you’ll find your tribe.
While I do try to help my daughter recognize social cues and discuss ways to be a good friend, I also make sure to praise her efforts and her differences. Differences aren’t necessarily bad, and I never want her to feel that way. I want to teach her to hold her head high and be proud of who she is, embracing both strengths and weaknesses, because they both make her who she is.
Having ADHD isn’t a limitation, it’s simply a diagnosis. We can help our kids recognize social cues that will help them with their peer relationships, but we wouldn’t change who they are for the world.