Children with ADHD frequently have problems with social skills. They may miss “cues” from the person they are with, not understand personal boundaries, impulsively interrupt others when they are speaking or simply feel as if they do not belong. Some children may be emotionally immature, not able to relate to children their own age, making them feel isolated and alone. All children need friends. They need to have someone to talk with, someone they feel accepted by, someone that understands and accepts them.
Parents help children learn social skills by setting an example. Children watch how adults interact with one another and try to mimic that behavior. Parents can also provide opportunities for children to interact with other children, through activities such as clubs, church groups or play dates. But sometimes, all of this is not enough and our children still feel alone.
Rather than talking with your child about how to make friends, it is sometimes helpful to role-play and provide them with the not only the knowledge, but the skills to get along with other children. Role-playing has been used by therapists and counselors for many years. It is an active learning experience and by learning and doing the lessons taught can become part of your child’s every day life.
Before you begin a role-playing session, take some time to prepare. Some of the things you might want to think about beforehand:
- What types of problems are they having in trying to make friends?
- Do they make friends but have a problem keeping friends?
- What behaviors might be stopping them from making friends?
You will want to begin with improving one or two behaviors at a time. It might be helpful to talk with other adults in your child’s life. Teachers and group leaders can often offer insight into social skills that you may not see and can help narrow down a few behaviors that might be most often interfering with making friends.
Once you have a clear understanding of what may be stopping your child from having friends, you can begin to develop several scenarios to start role-playing. When starting role-playing, begin with two or three scenarios. This can help to keep you focused on improving one or two social skills at a time, rather than overwhelming your child.
Some things to keep in mind when role-playing:
Talk with your child before you begin. Let them know what you are doing and what you want to accomplish. Having a specific goal in mind can improve your chances of success.
In the beginning, you may have to take the lead and help to develop the scenario for your child. They may feel uncomfortable or nervous at first, but letting them know this is like “pretend play” can be helpful in making them feel more at ease. You may even want to begin by saying “Lights, camera, action” to make it more fun than work for your child.
Keep scenarios short and focused at the beginning. As you and your child develop the role-playing, you can add in more complex scenarios, and include teaching problem-solving as part of the game.
Repetition helps. Act out a scenario more than one time to help reinforce the message.
Stop the role-playing from time to time to discuss what is going on. Talking about the situation as well as acting it out can help a child to understand and anticipate different situations. Discuss what happened and other ways that may also have worked.
Make role-playing fun. If your child enjoys the exercise, they are more apt to want to continue or do it again another time.
Besides social skills, role-playing can be used for many different situations. You can rehearse situations to increase problem-solving skills as well as help with times your child may feel anxious. Use role-playing as a part of everyday learning.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.