March 19, 2018
A fundamental difference between many children with learning disabilities and other kids is that they often have social issues, which can be more debilitating than their learning problems.
If that’s the case with your child, it’s time to toss out the rule that says you can’t be your child’s friend, and replace it with a new one that says everyone deserves at least one pal—and for the time being, that may have to be you.
In the absence of same-age buddies, it’s up to you to teach him how friendships work—the give and take, the unwavering support, the sharing and taking turns, etc. As he learns those lessons, he’ll be developing the skills to be a better friend himself, which will transfer to peers when the opportunity presents itself.
The tricky part is bridging the gap between parent and friend, particularly if your child is at that stage where he’s naturally asserting his own independence. Stepping back from your role as enforcer to pick up the mantle of BFF may feel uncomfortable, but so too is being the kid who’s always left out, teased, or worse, bullied.
What to Do
Helping your child develop friend-making skills, starts with modeling friend-keeping behavior. Begin by becoming his confidant. Win him over with tales from your past. Remember the time you started at a new school and ate lunch in the bathroom for a week because you were afraid to join a table? Tell him about the “worst week of your life” when the “mean girls” turned on you; share your feelings about being the last picked for the dodgeball team. Misery loves company, but the bigger lesson is that we all go through challenging times, and survive them. He will too.
Once you’ve established your BFF cred, and he’s willing to confide in you, guide him through ways to manage the horrors of playground politics. For example, help him find an appropriate response to those hurtful comments. Hit the offender? Turn your back and walk away? Tell an adult? Work through the options and their consequences. Help him cultivate verbal responses that can defuse tough situations: “I’d like to see you just stand there with a ball coming at your head about 100 miles an hour.”
The important point is, at a crucial time, you’re helping him learn the skills he needs to make and keep his own friends. When that happens you can give up your role as BFF and return to your rightful job as enforcer.
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