Help Socially Immature Kids Make Friends and Succeed at School

How to help children with ADHD improve behavior and social skills to make friends and do well at school.


Filed Under: ADHD Kids Making Friends, Behavior in ADHD Kids, For Teachers of ADHD Children
Young students run through a school hallway at a learning institution for children with ADHD and learning disabilities. ADDitude Magazine

ADHD children are usually not aware of how immature or off-base they may seem to peers and adults.

The problem: The social maturity of children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) may be a few years behind that of their peers. In addition, they have difficulty reading verbal and physical social cues, misinterpreting remarks, or not getting jokes or games. Thus, their responses and reactions are often inappropriate, and it may be difficult to make friends their own age.

The reason: ADHD is a developmental disorder in which brain maturation is delayed. The student’s development may also be uneven. Students may behave appropriately in some situations but not in others, leading some unenlightened adults to believe “they can behave when they want to.”

The obstacles: ADHD children are usually not aware of how immature or off-base they may seem to peers and adults. They cannot adequately read other people’s responses to their behavior. Desperate for positive attention, they may try behavior that is outrageous, funny, or negative, mistakenly believing it will gain them friends and respect. They may be ostracized by their peers and singled out by teachers, which hurts their self-esteem.

Solutions in the classroom

Understanding the developmental level of your ADHD student is critical. While a child’s academic performance may be up to par, socially he or she may lag several years behind the rest of the class.

  • Do not expect the child to behave as responsibly or rationally as his classmates. Thinking of him as two or three years younger than the group will help you better understand and respond to his needs.
  • Never embarrass or humiliate an ADHD child in your classroom for off-target social behavior. Whatever their maturity level, children with ADHD often don’t learn social skills “naturally.” These skills have to be taught.
  • Work privately with the student to provide appropriate words and phrases to use with peers, and practice them one-on-one repeatedly. Provide opportunities for the student to work with small groups, and monitor interactions closely to minimize difficulties with peers.
  • In some special-needs classes and schools, teachers post “emotion” drawings or photos on the wall, displaying a variety of facial expressions with words describing what they mean (“Angry,” “Sad,” “Surprised”). These visual reminders help ADHD students interpret situations that occur in life. The rest of the class does not have to know that the drawings are only for your ADHD students.
  • Praise the child in front of peers for work that’s well done. Increased self-esteem and peer recognition can occur when a student’s special skills or talents are highlighted and shared with the group. The child will not have to resort to antics and off-target remarks to get the attention he needs.

Solutions at home

Adjust your expectations to recognize that your child’s understanding and behaviors are often those of a much younger child. With this knowledge in mind, try to give your child directions or instructions that a child perhaps two years younger could understand and accomplish easily.

  • Identify your child’s strengths and interests by providing opportunities to explore special gifts and talents. Expose him or her to music, various sports, art, cooking, or any other hobby that can lead to mastery and a greater sense of self.
  • Be a coach to your child by role-playing and rehearsing everyday situations and appropriate responses. Exhibit appropriate behaviors yourself, and discuss with your child social situations in your own life and how you decided to respond.
  • If possible, locate a social skills remediation group in your area and enroll your child so he can practice in a safe environment.
  • Children with ADHD are often great playmates and babysitters to younger children. In such situations they can exercise their positive caring traits while not being threatened by peer relationships that don’t match up.
  • Get involved in your child’s activities if the adults in charge don’t understand the reason for your child’s immaturity. Many parents of ADHD kids volunteer to lead Scout troops, coach Little League, or supervise community service efforts to be with their child.

This article comes from the August/September 2004 issue of ADDitude.

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