“They don’t want to play with me!” She yells, stomping up the stairs and throwing her book bag down the hall. As is my daily habit, I wait until she blows off steam and it’s calm in her room again. Then I walk in, plop on the floor next to her where she’s creating an angry-looking art project, and prompt, “Tell me about that.”
The details are different each time, but the gist is this: my daughter who has bipolar and ADHD really struggles to have friends.
- She misses social cues
- She gets in people’s personal space
- Her mood swings leave friends confused about her
- She’s loud and demonstrative (and because of development issues, seems a little clumsy)
- She’s chronologically, but not developmentally their age.
How can we help our kids work around their challenges and be a friend?
Role play. Re-do the situation that happened that day – the one that was upsetting. Take turns being your child and the other one, handling it a few different ways until something seems like a good fit for your child.
Talk about friendship and being a friend. Talk about your own friends and what you like about them. Talk about times you’ve screwed up and missed a cue, said or did something unfriendly and how you worked through it. “Notice” (out loud) when you see your child or their friends/siblings doing something friendly. Help them see in what ways they are a good friend and what they could work on.
Ask questions. Find out what about playing with, working together or talking to friends is hard for them. Sometimes there’s an easy work-around. For my daughter, she gets upset at friends who don’t follow the rules (and she really REALLY keeps track of those instances). So we’ve found ways that she can have jobs at school and in social groups where she’s teaching new people how to do things. It helps her relate pleasantly in a way that honors her sense of structure.
Try new things. If having the same conversation about friendliness and social skills isn’t working, stop having it! The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again, expecting different results. Try something different – have your child write a note to a friend, or if they’re a gift-giver, bring a little gift they made at home. Read a book on friendship in your child’s class. Use reverse psychology (“You’re right, you’ll never have friends. People dislike you so much, if we wanted to go get your favorite frozen yogurt right now, they wouldn’t even let you in the store. I guess we can’t go do that….”)
Trust your child… and yourself. It won’t always be this way. They will mature, adapt, find coping strategies and make gains in this area. Celebrate the gains. Give yourself a pat on the back for walking the heart-breaking road with them all this time. And speak life-giving encouragement into them as you go.
What has worked with your own child as they learned about friendship? What would you add to this list?