How to Manage Play Dates and Other Social Outings When Your Child Has ADHD

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Having your child get together with other kids their age is an important part of socializing. But for parents of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, managing play dates and other outings can be challenging. How then, can social interactions be handled when an ADHD child interacts with non-ADHD children? Why might this be an issue at all?

Caroline Maguire, an ADHD and social skills coach at New England Coaching Services in Concord, Massachusetts, says this isn’t a challenge for every kid with ADHD. However, she explains that when taking into consideration the “basic underlying tenants” of the disorder such as having issues with inattention or hyperactivity, social difficulties can arise.

For example, the National Institute of Mental Health explains that a child with inattention challenges may “have problems sustaining attention in tasks or play.” The hyperactive-impulsive child may interrupt others during game-playing or talk out of turn. Such behaviors may present challenges for the ADHD child attempting to interact with non-ADHD children during play dates and social outings.

Here’s a closer look at these challenges and some ways parents can better ensure a successful experience.

Social Challenges for an ADHD Child

“As far as the duration of a play date,” Maguire explains, “a neurotypical kid may be able to spend all afternoon in the pool and then want pizza afterwards.” She says a child with ADHD may not be able to go this long because they typically have challenges when it comes to emotional self-regulation. So, a neurotypical child who becomes hungry while playing, she says, may be fine when a parent informs them that food is on the way but they may have to wait a bit. ADHD children in this similar scenario may not cope as well knowing that they may not be able to satisfy their hunger more promptly. This may also be the case when fatigue or other feelings enter the picture. Therefore, consideration of the duration of the play date as well as its location is important, she says, because it can help set the child up for success. “Parents need to think this through,” Maguire says.

“If you want a successful play date,” says Carol Brady, a psychologist in Houston, whose interest has been working with children, “keep activities short and sweet.” Doing so will help your child work within the parameters of his or her symptoms, while ensuring that all of the children are still having fun. “Start out small and structured and stick to a limited time period,” says Brady, who has written several articles for ADDitude magazine, a publication focused on families and adults living with ADHD.

Additionally, Maguire adds that because children with ADHD often aren’t able to accurately “tune in” and gauge social cues, they may not notice that another kid is no longer interested in an activity. The non-ADHD child may interpret the ADHD child’s ongoing interest as being pushy, boring or uncooperative, when in reality it may be that the ADHD child is hyperfocused on something he or she finds intriguing or is unable to pick up on other people’s reactions.

Parents should take maturity levels into consideration, says Maguire, who is also the director of the Fundamentals of ADHD Coaching for Families Program at the ADD Coach Academy and the author of the forthcoming book “Why Will No One Play With Me? A Parent’s Guide to a Socially Happy Child.”

“A 9-year-old child with ADHD may behave like a 6-year-old,” she says of the maturational lag that’s common among those with the disorder. She notes that a 9-year-old usually expects certain age-appropriate behaviors from other children, so an ADHD child may be deemed too childish and goofy in the eyes of a non-ADHD child.

All of this can lead to awkward play dates or prevent subsequent ones from occurring. “The other parents might think the ADHD child is ‘too much’ for their non-ADHD child,” Maguire says. “This may make them less inclined to invite the child in the future.”

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