Working with children with ADHD and the families who support then, personal coach Caroline Maguire has developed a unique way of drawing out the best in her clients and help those who struggle to fit in socially. Detailing her findings and advice in her new book, WHY WILL NO ONE PLAY WITH ME?: The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive, out today, Sept. 24, Maguire hopes to give the necessary building blocks to help kids in their social interactions with their peers.
Want to learn more? Check out our exclusive excerpt:
When you have a kid who swims, you spend a lot of time at the pool for team practice and meets. One thing you notice is that swim coaches don’t jump in the pool. They watch closely as their swimmer does what she came to do, and occasionally they’ll call out an encouraging word or quick comment. But mostly they watch and make mental notes they review with the swimmer when the heat is done. Around the world, from sports to music to championship chess, you see the same thing: come game time, the coach is on the sidelines.
When it’s time for your child to put her practice to the test in a playdate, you shift to the sidelines, too. Your role as coach is no less important, but your direct involvement will be minimal. You’ll be taking notes about your child’s successes and missteps to discuss later in debriefing. You’ll also look at other aspects of the setting, including playmates’ personalities and the interactions and emotions that played out, so that you and your child can discuss these kinds of social details when you debrief about their experience and their own behavior.
Your coaching from the sidelines is a unique step in your child’s experience, too. As playdate coach, you want to encourage your child to manage his own social interactions or dilemmas. You’ll intervene only when necessary, and (this is very important to remember) you may need to adjust your idea of “necessary.” It’s part of your child’s task to self-monitor and recognize when he needs to do something differently than he has in the past, draw on a skill he’s been practicing, and give it a try. Whether that is entirely successful or not, your place as coach needs to be on the sidelines for the more detached view. You’re there to offer a cue if it’s needed, but mostly to observe and note the successes and slip-ups to discuss when you reconnoiter and debrief in your next coaching session.
In the natural social interaction and give-and-take of a playdate, your child needs to try to work things out with friends and practice friendship skills on her own as much as possible. You give her room to make mistakes because mistakes are a critical part of the learning process. Debriefing, which we’ll turn to in the next chapter, helps your child look at those bumps in the road and reflect and learn from them like never before.
AS YOU START
Remember: This is a work in progress—and it is going to work! During playdates, children sometimes forget their mission or fumble with the skill they’ve practiced. It’s hard for kids to remember new skills when they’re excited in the moment. But unlike past experiences, when you watched in horror as playdates disintegrated before your eyes, you and your child have created some support structures that give you a shared language to use when you discuss how things went after the fact.
You’ll be practicing a new skill, too: how to limit your involvement and use discreet cues to communicate. For example, what if your child becomes inflexible about going along with the group, reverting to some familiar unhelpful habits that she’s trying to break? You will have rehearsed in advance and you’ll specifically prep in these key areas that call for your child’s new skill. In simulation and role-play exercises at home, you’ll have agreed upon a few code words or cues that you can use if she needs a reminder.
If your child comes to you with problems rather than solving them for himself, you can turn the tables and pose problem-solving questions to him. By doing so, you don’t get snared in a discussion about the problem. The conversation becomes about his ability to work on finding some solutions. (See the “Pocket Coach” section next for specifics.)
As you take notes, include any interactions you have with your child and the prompts that worked best for her. You’ll see which questions connected with her and built her confidence to read the situation independently. That’s important information for you both to have the next time.
POCKET COACH: COACHING FROM THE SIDELINES
If your child steps out of the play activity and comes to you with a complaint or a problem, you can ask:
- What’s the problem?
- How come? What’s going on?
- What are the signs you’re picking up on?
- What can you do to keep play going?
- What was your mission for this playdate, and how can you get back on track?
- What does your friend want?
- What would it be like to go along with your friend? What might happen?
- We prepared for (this problem). What did we plan?
SEVEN WAYS TO ENCOURAGE INDEPENDENCE DURING PLAYDATES
Confidence comes from doing. If independence is a challenge for your child, then practicing independence could be the mission for a playdate. Three common behaviors by kids are common hot buttons for parents to intervene in ways that, in effect, let their children off the hook for independent problem-solving.
Boomerang. Your child keeps coming back to you to complain, or ask for help, or just to duck out of playing with the other kids. You can say to your child that you want her to think about how she can handle the situation, and ask what is making her come back so often. Ask your child what her mission is. What can she do to have fun in the circumstances she’s in?
Volcano. Meltdowns or blowups probably bring you running to intervene. Remind your child of his calm-down strategies and ask him what he can do to calm himself. Ask your child, “What is bothering you?” What can he do to work out any conflict or to change what is bothering him?
Disengaged. You see your child holding back, being reluctant, or refusing to participate, or perhaps she was forgotten or excluded by the other children, and you step in to fix it. Ask your child what’s going on for her. What is making her disengage? Remind her of what you rehearsed. Ask what games would interest her. What can she do to ask her friends to play those games?
Your first parenting impulse may be to intervene, but remember: The goal is for your child to practice a new skill, get some experience, and learn from successes and failures alike. Your goal is to foster independence. Here’s how to encourage independence, in home coaching and then during playdates:
- Role-play to show your child what it looks like when you have a conflict, asking your friend what they want and letting things go, like you rehearsed in Flexible Me; or picking from a preplanned list of things she has brainstormed with you, to try when she’s not sure what to
- Discuss ahead of time what to do if things start to go off the rails. “When you make a mistake, you stay calm and follow your plan for getting back on track. If you pause, then remember, your plan is to breathe slowly in and out when you start to get upset.”
- Simulate challenges at home or practice with family friends, so your child has practiced independence with cousins, siblings, and in emotionally safe situations over and
- Place a timer (a windup kitchen or office timer is fine) that even a small child can use in every play space so they get used to the idea of time passing, the time they have for a turn, and when it’s time for someone else’s If your child struggles with independence, rehearse using the timer well ahead of the playdate. Use it to encourage a sense of time around ordinary things—dinner, computer time, homework—and with interactions as well.
- If your child goes off on his own too much, or certain toys are likely to be the trigger for conflict, introduce a “close off and take away” Talk through a plan in advance with your child and put those special toys away. Discuss that you want him to explain to his guest, if asked, that certain toys have been put away for another day.
- “You have to try to solve the problem without me” can be the play- date Role-play and ask your child to try to ask her friend if they can work out their differences. What can we do to compromise? is a phrase your child can use. Explain that you expect her to try that before coming to get you.
- If your child seems especially needy, ask about any worries. You can say, “The problem seems unrelated,” and then ask, “What is your worry about this?” Ultimately, your goal is to help your child generalize the new skills and behaviors—take them from the small stage of home practice to the larger one of a To do so, your child needs to learn to recognize and address what’s getting in the way.
From WHY WILL NO ONE PLAY WITH ME?: The Play Better Plan to Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive by Caroline Maguire, PCC, M.ED. Copyright © 2019 by the author and reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
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