What a difference a friend makes

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Two children playing with a dog

Two children playing with a dog (Photo credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives)

Like many kids with ADHD, M doesn’t always get along well with other children. He makes friends, but has trouble keeping them. In the past, his behaviour has been unpredictable and outrageous at times. It isn’t surprising that other children don’t want to hang around with him as they don’t know what he will react to and when, nor what he’ll do.  He’s been known to kick, punch or even strangle another child, when he’s angry. Fortunately, he’s learning to manage his anger. But he still doesn’t always get social cues. I’ve watched him with other kids, totally in their faces and watched them physically recoiling while he chats on. This is pretty typical of ADHD kids – they tend to he have little concept of personal space and don’t clue in to social cues like facial expressions or body language.

 

Some children are naturally solitary and don’t much care if they have friends to hang around with after school and on weekends. Not M. He has always craved the company of other children. He can amuse himself, but too much time alone and he complains about “being bored.” More significantly, M’s lack of a social support network (adult speak for a “best friend”) has been a big source of his anxiety.

 

For a few years, he hung around with a couple of children who lived in the neighbourhood. They were a bit older and as the youngest child in the group, M got bossed around. As a group, they played highly imaginative outdoor games, but there was always lots of drama. It became increasingly clear to my husband and I that the group dynamics weren’t the healthiest, especially for M. But no matter how many times he came home upset at something that had happened, he couldn’t let go of this relationship. The Devil he knew was better than having no one to hang around with. Eventually things reached a tipping point and we told M he couldn’t go inside their house to play. Gradually, he lost interest in playing with them.

 

This left him pretty much on his own. Even though he seemed to get along well with a couple of the kids in his class, he was never invited to play with them after school or on weekends.

 

However, things began to turn around last winter. After defending another child in the after school program against a racial taunt, he began to be invited to play at the child’s home on a regular basis. This was about the same time that he lost several friends because he used a racial slur – one door closes and the other open. Around the same time, M also became good friends with a child from karate and they played together regularly on weekends.  Although M’s friends know each other, M hangs out with them separately. Groups, even small ones, are still challenging for M.

 

Both M’s friends have high energy siblings, so neither child is particularly put off by M’s behaviour. They are both capable of  dealing with M when he starts getting bossy. As M has become more comfortable and secure in his relationship with each child, his need to be in charge has decreased. Relationships among 11 year old’s rarely run smoothly, but there haven’t been too many disagreements. When they do occur, the kids work it out themselves.

 

Over the last couple of months, we’ve noticed that M seems much happier and confident. Knowing he has friends who “have his back” has significantly boosted his self-esteem.  He seems less anxious about going to school. In the past, M has spent a fair amount of time trying to get attention from other kids, even though they may not be the best fit for his personality or share the same interests. he doesn’t seem to be doing this as much. Since school started, he’s been much more willing to participate in class activities than he was when school ended. He’s getting along with his classmates and not getting into conflicts with other children, either at school or in the after school program. He’s not suddenly perfect – he told me tonight that he’s been bumping into classmates with his scooter as they go up to class in the morning and this morning, one of them kicked him after M bumped into his foot.  Typical M – he didn’t seem to understand why the other child reacted badly.

 

No doubt some of M’s new attitude can be attributed to the fact that he’s a year older and is gradually becoming more mature. He is increasingly able to control his temper and react appropriately. But I think having two good true friends has played a big part in his growing confidence levels. Even though he and his friends go to different schools, he knows he’s not completely alone. Since he doesn’t feel so socially isolated, he’s less anxious, which means he can make better choices. The more he succeeds, the more positive feedback he gets from his teachers and other adults. We’ve seen first hand the impact of the vicious circle of negative feedback; now we’re seeing the impact of positive feedback.

 

Most kids need at least one close friend – one person who shares their interests, and with whom they can do stuff with and sometimes just hang out.Kids like M, who have  social and behavioural challenges, really need one or two close friends. But that very behaviour can get in the way of making friends. In the past, the odd time M was invited to another child’s home, I can remember mentally crossing my fingers and hoping he would be invited back. More often than not, there would be some sort of conflict and M wasn’t invited back. Now, M has two good buddies and knows he will be invited back.

 

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