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Parents of children with attention deficit disorder are eager to help their kids foster friendships. But when it comes to sleepovers and other overnight stays with friends or relatives, parents worry that their ADHD kids' good behavior will disappear when the sun goes down. It's normal to worry that your ADDer will be hard to handle or feel homesick or abandoned.
With the right preparation, even the most fragile ADHD child can enjoy a successful sleepover away from home. Several issues should first be considered:
Know your child's maturity and experience
Youngsters with ADHD tend to be less mature, more impulsive and less attentive to social cues than other kids their age. There's no specific age at which it's okay. Many eight-year-olds do just fine, although some do better hosting other children in their own homes before venturing away themselves.
Consider your child's prior experiences before determining her readiness for an overnight stay. Some children are old hands at being away from home, having spent time with grandparents or aunts and uncles. Others have rarely been separated from their parents. For these kids, a gradual progression from overnights with relatives to overnights with friends is recommended.
Know your child's willingness and flexibility
Some children with ADHD are outgoing and eager for adventure. Others are homebodies. If your child shows no interest in an overnight stay, don't push him. Wait until the time is right.
The first few times your child spends the night away from home, have a backup plan — in case he gets homesick or proves to be a handful for the host. Obviously, you'll want to leave a phone number where you can be reached, and make arrangements to be accessible so that you can quickly come to the rescue if necessary. In any case, make sure your child understands that you will not be disappointed or angry if she decides at 2am that it's time to come home.
Don't assume that your child will be able to convey any anxiousness she might be having. Share the particulars of your child's routines, especially those associated with bedtime, with the other parents. A host who understands children's habits and comfort levels will find it easier to calm them or otherwise intervene.
Know your child's special needs, and share them
Taking ADD medication on schedule can mean the difference between a great overnight sleepover and a disaster. If your child will need to take medication during the stay, provide the host with clear, written instructions. Mention special dietary concerns as well. Some parents put together booklets containing all the information a host might need about their children. In addition to doctors' phone numbers and relevant medical information, the booklet might include details about a child's personality quirks, how she typically responds in various situations, and the discipline strategies that usually work best. Be clear about the situations in which you would like to be called. For example, do you expect a phone call if your child is unable to settle in for the night? Or if he sustains a very minor injury?
This might seem like overkill, but parents of ADD kids have often said how much their children's hosts have appreciated getting an "overnight info packet." For more information about hosting a child with ADHD, see ADDventures in Babysitting.
Here's the bottom line: The first sleepover for a child with ADHD often proves to be harder on the parents than on the child. But try not to worry, Mom and Dad. It's all part of growing up.
Carol Brady, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Houston.