|PRAISING HIGH MAINTENANCE CHILDREN - FRIENDSHIPS
By our definition, the 'high maintenance' child is a
child with several extreme temperament traits along with
some other challenges - perhaps a learning disability,
chronic illness or secondary problem related to stresses
in the family. Helping such youngsters make and keep friends
is often an area of struggle for families and one which
causes deep pain to parents and children.
In sorting through this issue, it is useful to start
out by distinguishing between teaching your child social
skills and fostering true friendships. Social skills are
something every child needs to be able to get along in
the world with others, including strangers. We discuss
social skills development in other issues. This issue
is about true friendships. A friendship involves a bond
of mutual affection. Friends like or even love each other.
Friends can be relied upon to listen to confidences and
There is a feeling of mutual appreciation and often an
ability to laugh together. What can parents do to foster
true friendships in their high maintenance children?
Here are a few suggestions based on experience:
MODEL AFFECTION AND LOYALTY.
Attachment theorists claim that the bond between primary
caregiver and child lays the foundation for all other
relationships. Others stress social learning processes.
Regardless of the processes involved, it does seem to
be true that children who have received unconditional
love are better able to like and love others. Therefore,
the basis of fostering friendships in your child is the
love and support you show your child, in spite of the
fact you find him or her to be very high maintenance for
you. Aspects of this love which can be expected to transfer
to other relationships are intimacy (sharing of confidences
and respecting privacy and secrets), forgiveness of mistakes,
shared pleasures and even mild teasing and mock fighting.
Sticking up for your child may teach your child to be
protective of friends, too. And your modeling of the
value you place on your own friends is likely to be very
RESPECT INDIVIDUAL PREFERENCES.
The second role of parents is to understand and respect
their child individuality and to recognize that this individuality
will shape the nature of your child's friendships. If
your child is attracted to loud, enthusiastic youngsters
who rush through your house wearing out you and your furnishings,
this may be a fact you need to live with. Bringing in
more passive children with "better manners"
may not satisfy your child's social needs. If your child
has a learning disability which is holding him or her
back in school, you may wish to bring in the "good
influence" of a neighbor who is an advanced reader
and walking encyclopedia. However, such a youngster may
make your child feel like a failure and a friendship between
the youngsters may be unlikely. Your child needs to fit
with his or her friends and friends must be of your child's
THE WORK INVOLVED IN FOSTERING FRIENDSHIP
MAY BE ANOTHER HIGH MAINTENANCE FEATURE OF YOUR CHILD.
Parents of high maintenance children may shudder at the
extra work involved when their child is in the company
of even a well-liked peer. They may need to supervise
to prevent excitement from escalating into unintentioned
aggression, they may need to intervene when their own
child's 'bossiness' is overwhelming the guest, and they
may be called in to cope with tears when their child's
special sensitivity is showing. It may turn out that "needs
extra help in making and keeping friends" is one
of their child's high maintenance traits. If that is the
case, then this is a fact you need to accept. But helping
your child make friends is a parental task worth working