Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Good Friends Are Hard to Find

This summer, I was on a mission. At least I started out that way and like some of my "missions," it sort of fizzled into almost nothing but as the summer fades, my laziness goes with it and I'm reviving some of my goals.

One of them was to make friends for my kids. I really feel the need to make more socialization opportunities for Logan and Spencer. After all, that was one of the reasons I quit my job. When I was working, getting playdates for Logan was a lost cause. I think there were many reasons behind it. Some parents didn't want nannies to have playdates. Some parents didn't want other people's children in their homes when they weren't there. Moreover, no mom wanted to have a playdate with a nanny. The only time it was possible for me to have a playdate for Logan was during the weekend and of course, those were always spur-of-the-moment and skills could not be practiced on a consistent basis.

I quit my job when my kids entered the world of special needs services but unfortunately, it was still hard to get playdates for my kids. It was great to have special services for the kids but therapy takes time and keeps you locked up at home or a clinic. Moreover, Logan (and soon Spencer) goes to a special ed school and so he is not able to go to school with kids in the neighborhood. Furthermore, time spent on the bus, something neighborhood kids don't do, means less time in the neighborhood playground where he could be making and keeping friendships.

It feels so awkward to me to help my child "make friends," but it has to be done. I had already disturbed the "natural" order of things by putting them in tons of therapy and special needs schools away from our neighborhood. I have to intervene to make up for this disadvantage.

I found a couple of willing people and we've been trying to make it work. I am so grateful to them for seeing strengths in my children and being willing to work with all of our busy schedules. Some of my friends have even brought their children to my home when Spencer has ABA therapy and the therapist has supervised their playdates. Those have always been great and she's actually said that he learns more this way than actual therapy.

However for Logan, life is not so easy. He rarely ever gets a playdate request but I try to remember to work on it when I can. When I see him playing nicely with anyone, I remind him how proud I am that he is using his words and listening to his friend's words.

Since I'm home now, I'm trying hard to make good playdates for my kids. It's not easy to do but so far this is what I've learned:

1. Choose complimenting personalities. One of Logan's newest "friends" is someone who is so much more calm than he is and doesn't mind Logan's bossiness so much. This means that I have to intervene to make sure that the friend doesn't become a yes-man but at the same time I think Logan feels less threatened by his friend's gentle demeanor and naturally becomes less anxious and bossy.

2. Start indoors and give them time to forge a relationship. It is so easy to have a playdate in the playground but if they don't feel connected to each other and have issues of distractibility, it is likely that they'll end up doing their own thing. For Logan, he only had two indoor playdates with one boy but now when we meet the boy in the park, they play together for a good chunk of time.

3. Siblings need to be somewhere else. If social skills is a real issue for you like it is for me, the other sibling will only cause stress (unless he is a newborn and sleeping all the time). Whenever I can, I invest the time and energy to make it a successful experience for them.

4. Keep it short. Logan has to believe that being with other friends can be fun. I know he wants to be with other kids but when I see how sensitive and angry he gets with other kids, I know that he believes that it's just easier to be alone. Keeping playdates short increases the chance that it will end on a good note.

5. Be specific about the skills to be worked on. I know that for Logan, he needs to listen more and let someone else do the directing once in a while. I try to praise him for those behaviors when he is successful. It feels a bit unnatural and I often wonder if other moms think I'm nuts when they hear me say things like, "I really love how you were listening to your friend just now." Maybe I should just wear a t-shirt that says, "I'm really not a helicopter mom. He just needs a little extra help."

6. Don't give up. I have to admit, sometimes, I close my eyes to the fact that Logan is off being a loner again because I enjoy the break the playground's distractions give to my kids and therefore to me. The last thing I want is to be doing is giving 10 time-outs and breaking up fights in the playground. However, I have to remind myself that this is no different from helping my child walk without a cane because in his heart he really wants to walk without that cane. He always excited to have a playdate. I have to learn to use that desire more efficiently.

7. Don't be sorry all the time. I frequently apologize for Logan and find myself falling back into a high-alert mode as if he'll accidentally (or not) hurt another child at any moment. I'm sure that isn't doing much for his confidence or my anxiety. Today, he crashed into a smaller boy and the babysitter (or mother?) shouted at Logan and quickly dragged the kid away and didn't allow me the chance to make Logan apologize. I decided to just shrug it off. I have enough crap to deal with. Anyway, he's five now. I need to let him go a bit and let him face more consequences.

I learned a few of these things from the book, Good Friends Are Hard to Find by Fred Frankel. (Sorry Dr. Frankel, I had to steal your title. It's so good!) Even though Logan will have some supervised play opportunities with friends at his school, I have to try really hard to get him a friend in the neighborhood. Maybe that will be one of my projects for the kids this year. Is it weird to say that I hope both Spencer and Logan have at least two "good" friends in our neighborhood this year? Wish us luck.

Photo 1: Logan loves to play with Theo. In their first playground-playdate, they didn't pay that much attention to each other until they went to the pool. There they bonded and were inseparable afterwards. What is it about water that is so great for kids? I think it helped Logan because the pool was small and hence he was better able to focus on his friend.

Photo 2: Two 2-yr-olds that play well together. Born only a few weeks apart, Mateo has turned out to be a great playmate for my youngest one. Somehow their personalities mesh very well. I have seen them work out scuffles on their own and share a snack together quite happily. Mateo's first language is Spanish but somehow the two talk to each other anyway. They are so cute. I am always thrilled to have them play together.


Elyse Orecchio said...

Really nice post, Jen. Took the words out of my mouth, I could have written a lot of it myself.

Hey, can you please send the photos you took of Theo and Logan at the park? I'll have to take photos of them too.

It was great yesterday when Logan was leaving and Theo was upset that Logan couldn't play in the bigger playground with him.

Hartley said...

Great points Jenn! I think we as parents forget that learning social skills is the same as learning anything else--it takes guidance, dedication, focus and repeptition (and that is just from us moms!). All of those things are difficult to accomplish when you are just having friends over to play. We do need to take the time to plan one on one structured play dates for our kidds. It is one of my BIG goals this year. Now I just need to find enough people that are as dedicated as I am to *making* the time. Ugh.
Wish me luck,