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Current Issue of BDINews
Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Friendship. January, 2018.
Dear Kate:
I have 12-year old twins in special education who have completely opposite learning disabilities.....
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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 keep secrets.

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:


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 powerful.


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 own choosing.


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 at.

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