6 Steps to Help Your Child Make Friends

By Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D

Elementary-age children with LD or ADHD often have social challenges. They might be impulsive and bossy or miss nonverbal cues that are fundamental to successful social interactions. Many with learning differences are not self-aware. They often don’t understand the messages they send by their behavior—both verbal and nonverbal—or the messages other children send to them.

These children need to learn how to see the “big picture” and viewpoints other than their own. Most important, they need to learn behaviors that will help them make and keep friends. Following are some strategies to help your elementary-age child develop these important social skills.

  1. Develop your child’s awareness of body language that sends an “I’m friendly” message. Look at other people when you’re out, or view videos together. Discuss the gestures and facial cues that tell who’s friendly, mad, tired, etc.
  2. Talk through social situations or even draw them. Write “social stories,” where you create a story about a situation your child experiences. Explain how each character thinks and feels. Come up with the ideas together, and let your child write or illustrate the “book” you make.
  3. Find new ways to handle old problems. Saying “Don’t do that!” doesn’t teach her how to do something better. Preview situations that come up repeatedly, and practice a good way to handle them. Role-play. Make up a story where she handles the same situation in an old way and then in a new way, and talk through how others might react to both. She may need to stop, take a breath, and then use self-talk to remind herself of a new strategy. Try catch phrases such as “box on your head” for not looking at the whole situation but only her own perspective, or “Keeping a lid on” for “Don’t say everything you think.”
  4. Model positive self-talk. Kids often tell themselves negative ideas, such as “No one likes me,” and then react to those thoughts. They need to say something positive instead, such as “It helps when I’m friendly.” Model the use of “positive” self-talk often. When you’re stuck in traffic, say something like, “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
  5. Stress the value of remaining calm when being teased. Teasing is always hard to take, but reacting just makes it fun for the teasers. A better alternative is to calm down and use body language (a shrug) to say, “That doesn’t bother me.” When the intended victim doesn’t take the bait the teaser eventually moves on. (This is not for bullying, which must be reported to the teacher.)
  6. Watch TV together. Even Sponge Bob has to deal with being hurt, handling conflict and feeling left out. He often misinterprets other’s messages or is unaware of why they’re reacting a certain way. Ask your child how Sponge Bob could do it better.

Marcia Eckerd is an evaluator, consultant, and therapist who specializes in working with children with NLD and autism-spectrum disorders.

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