I wasn’t the most popular 9-year-old child. Not only was I painfully shy, I was also new to the English language. I remember feeling lonely and different. The other kids called me “weird” and didn’t want to play with me.
But everything changed once I was able to make my first friend, a child who was also learning English.
Now that I’m a family therapist, I often look back to that experience when parents come to me worried that no one wants to play with their child. Many times, these are parents of kids who have symptoms of ADHD.
The parents tell me their child is seen as “too hyper,” or even “too rough” or “too wild.” As a result, their child often gets ignored on the playground. He’s sometimes left off invitation lists for birthday parties. And he never gets asked to playdates.
But they often feel a huge relief when they do open up to me.
The first thing I tell them is “you’re not alone.” That seems to comfort them a lot.
They’re also relieved to find out there are ways to help their child with playdates and social situations. To find the right strategy, I try to consider each child’s individual needs.
For example, if your child is seen as too “too hyper,” you may want to seek playdates that are outdoors. The local park or jungle gym is a great place for a child who is very active. I also suggest high-energy activities, like a game of tag or soccer.
It can also help to keep a playdate short. Limiting the time to an hour or so, especially on the first playdate, can help prevent outbursts and conflict.
Knowing what your child is interested in can also help when planning a playdate. Think about what he can bring to a social situation.
For instance, I once worked with an 8-year-old boy who had an impressive memory and loved geography. His parents and I found a memory game based on the continents. The boy found it fascinating and was able to explain it to another child on a playdate. Both were then able to stay calm and focused while playing.
Lastly, don’t give up. It’s important for your child to get lots of practice with other kids so he can learn how to behave in social situations.
So don’t stop trying to arrange playdates. Keep asking for them politely. You never know who will say yes unless you ask.
Even having just one good friend can have a huge impact on your child’s life. For me, that was all it took to feel better about myself when I was 9 years old.
For more ideas, take a look at tips for planning playdates for your child.
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About the author
Giselle Ceja, MA is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Pasadena, California.