Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Importance of Having a Few Good Friends

Introduction


Developing healthy social relationships is critical in the development of a
child. Children who learn to relate well to others are more likely to become
happy well adjusted adults. Difficulty in making and keeping friends leads to
feelings of low self-esteem and these feelings usually continue into adulthood.



In addition, childhood friendships provide a critical buffer against stress and
help to protect against psychological and psychiatric problems. Children who
lack these positive interactions frequently develop a number of emotional
problems. Children with poor social skills do poorly in school. They are at risk
for delinquency, academic failure, and school drop out.



ADHD children often lack the social skills that are essential to success in life.
These children can be socially inept. Their lack of interpersonal skills may cause
them a multitude of difficulties. More than half of these children have difficulty
making and maintaining friendships. Even though the inattentiveness,
impulsiveness, and restlessness frequently persist into adult life, these problems
are of less importance as the ADD ADHD child gets older. The main difficulty ADHD people
encounter as they reach maturity is their inability to interact appropriately with
others.



As ADHD children grow older, their social problems seem to get worse. Their
inappropriate behavior leads to further social rejection and exacerbates their
inability to relate to others appropriately. As these children mature into adults,
they are more likely to have difficulty finding and maintaining successful careers.
This is not surprising since social aptitude can make or break careers and
relationships in the adult world.

Having a Special Friendship


In the past, most of the ADHD research and treatment programs involving social
interactions focused on how to improve the child’s general standing among his
peers. The results were less than satisfactory. The reason is that once the group
views a child as an outcast, this label is hard to overcome. Even if the child
changes the behaviors that originally caused this label, a reputation as a social
outcast stays with him.



Fortunately, a study published in the April 2003 issue of the Journal of
Attention Disorders,
,took a new look at ADHD and peer relationships.
The study focuses on the affects of helping ADHD children develop a single
good friend. The researchers studied 209 5-12 year old children
who participated in an intensive 8-week summer ADD ADHD child behavior treatment program.



The program was set up along the lines of a summer day camp. In addition to
the usual components of such a program, like social skills training and behavioral
training, the researchers added a “buddy system” to the program. The “buddy
system” was implemented to promote the development of friendship skills. The
program involved pairing each child with an age and gender matched "buddy".
Buddies were also paired based on similarities in behavioral, athletic, and
academic competencies and on whether children lived close enough together that
play dates could occur outside of camp.



The parents were encouraged to have the child meet with his buddy outside of the time
of the program. The goal was to have the children develop and
maintain a single good friendship during the length of the program.

Results of the Buddy Program


Some of the results were as expected. Children who were more aggressive did not
achieve as close a relationship with their buddy as the other children.



However, researchers uncovered two other points that are important to us.
According to the evaluation by the staff, those children whose parents supported
the buddy program by arranging play times outside of the camp setting, tended
to form better relationships. More importantly, the children also felt themselves
to more successful in making and sustaining the friendship.



Another important finding is that the type of buddy a child had affected his own
academic success during the program. The more antisocial behavior a child's
buddy displayed, the less likely teachers were to see academic or behavioral
improvement in the child. Conversely, when a child's buddy was less antisocial,
children were more likely to be regarded by teachers as making academic and
behavioral gains.

What Does This Mean to Us?


How can you apply the results of this study? First, even if your ADHD child is
suffering because his peers do not like him, you can significantly improve his
situation by helping him find one or a few close friends.



However, there is a point of caution. What type of child becomes your child’s
close friend may have a significant impact on his academic standing and social
behavior. The study showed that a well-behaved child will influence your child
to behave better. Okay so you knew that already. But, we’re scientists. Just
because something is blatantly obvious to anyone else doesn’t mean that it’s
obvious to us. So for us this is a major finding.



This just emphasizes how important it is for parents to monitor with whom their
children play. You must work hard to keep your child from associating with
antisocial peers. This can be critically important in preventing your child from
developing antisocial behavior.



A final noteworthy point is that the success of a child making a close relationship
with his buddy was largely related to how supportive the parents were. That means
that you as a parent can influence your child and help him to develop a special close
friend. You have the ability to direct your child properly so as to help him or her
avoid one of the most devastating long term effects of having ADHD. It is up to
you to help your child.

Anthony Kane, MD



ADD ADHD Advances


Anthony Kane, MD is a physician and international lecturer. Get
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