Children acquire social skills by being part of a classroom community. They learn to share, listen, empathize, and consider the impact of their words and deeds.
But kids with AD/HD have trouble attracting and keeping friends. They blurt out answers and get too close to classmates; they misinterpret remarks and miss references or jokes. And when adolescence arrives and social interactions become even more complex, ADDers fall farther behind.
To help your child forge lasting friendships, it's essential to provide explicit guidance and to offer frequent reminders of appropriate social behavior.
In the Classroom
- Keep in mind that a child with AD/HD may lag in social maturity. Even if he's on target academically, think of him as being two years younger than his classmates - and work with him accordingly.
- Post rules for proper behavior and guidelines for respecting each person's space, words, and ideas. Use visual and tactile boundaries - such as carpet squares on the floor for meetings - to define an appropriate distance between students.
- Hold class meetings that focus on social skills. Have students practice giving compliments, disagreeing politely, and solving problems as a group. Demonstrate socially appropriate behavior: Encouragement, for example, looks like a thumbs-up and sounds like "Nice try" or "Way to go."
- Arrange positive small-group experiences. Assign each student a task: In a reading group, there may be a simile spotter, a reader, and an illustrator to draw a picture of the action. Given an assignment that plays to her strengths, an ADDer will be an asset to the group.
- Develop a secret sign, like pulling your earlobe, that tells a child to stop calling out, humming, or otherwise disrupting the class.
- Prepare your child for social situations. Tell him what to say when meeting someone for the first time, and teach him the importance of transitional phrases like "Hello" and "Goodbye." Children with AD/HD have trouble generalizing; help him practice these skills in a variety of settings.
- Express behavioral goals in positive terms. Reminding your child to take turns is more effective than a statement like "Don't be mean." If you observe positive behavior, praise it - and be specific. "I liked the way you shared that toy with Tina" says more than "You were good at Tina's house."
- Teach conversation courtesy. ADDers often interrupt conversations to launch topics of their own. Use dinner time to practice how to maintain eye contact, listen to others, and politely join a group. Urge your child to count to five silently before making comments - it may stop him from blurting something hurtful.
- Invent games that foster empathy. Role-play difficult social interactions, such as disagreeing with a friend. Swap roles in each encounter, so your child can experience the other point of view. If your child has a hard time reading social cues, use photos from magazines or characters from TV as tools for explaining body language and different facial expressions.
- Create the conditions for successful play dates. Lots of kids and little structure is a recipe for trouble. With a new friend, keep the visit to one hour, and provide structured activities, like board games. Stay nearby, and intervene if the fun sours. If all goes well, gradually extend the visits and the amount of free play.
- Let your child play with younger kids, if that's what she prefers. Such interactions will give her a chance to take a leadership role - something that might be difficult when she plays with children of her own age.