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Attention Problems and Children VIII  

In this article we tackle another issue that can plague children with attention problems: social functioning with peers. Attentionally challenged children often have difficulty with peer relationships and are often held by their peers in low esteem. Their impulsivity and lack of self-control and sensitivity can make interaction with them unpleasant for their peers, so lead to peers disliking or avoiding them.

What can parents do? A couple of things, but they really need to go together. They can encourage and support more peer interaction, but then they should also monitor the interaction pretty closely and offer appropriate feedback and direction to their children. One research finding is that parents of children with attention problems often don’t host as many peer play dates as do parents of children without such challenges. It is not clear what that mechanism is, but it may have to do with play dates being more of a challenge for parents of attentionally challenged children and thus avoided, or just more difficulty in getting other children to come over. Nevertheless, if there are fewer play dates, children have less opportunity to practice and build social skills. Parents should do what they can to maximize their children’s opportunity to have social interaction with other children and thus build their skills.

Just turning the kids loose together probably won’t build much in the way of positive skills, and may in fact make things worse, so there are several factors parents should consider when setting up play dates.
The children who are invited are the first consideration. Putting together a bunch of kids who have attention problems is likely to just lead to more chaos. Parents should look for some kids in their children’s peer group that they know model the type of prosocial behavior they would like their own kids to exhibit. The number in a play groups should probably also be kept low, at least initially. It will be easier to monitor and give feedback if your child is playing with one or two kids than if playing with four or five.

Parents should provide feedback to their children about their behavior. They might even want to set up a goal with their children in advance of play dates. These might include sharing, taking turns, keeping their hands to themselves, etc. They can offer feedback in a gentle way during the play date and do an evaluation of how it went with their child after the date is over. It is important that they not be harsh or negative in their feedback. Harsh feedback may impact their children’s hope for their own improvement, but it might also model a more negative for the peers that their child is playing with.

Next week I will finish of the series on attention challenges with a discussion of how parents can best care for themselves.

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