Children with ADHD and learning difficulties frequently have trouble getting along with their peers. Some are easily provoked, excessively loud, or insensitive to personal boundaries, and their behavior marks them as being different. In group discussions they tend to dominate, yet their comments may be out of context. Despite these difficulties, they're often unaware of being annoying or disruptive.
Most children acquire social skills by watching what others do and trying it themselves. Kids with ADHD and learning disorders, however, often need explicit training to learn the rules of appropriate social interaction.
Social smarts 101
Many schools have implemented programs to promote socially appropriate values and behaviors, including sharing, fairness, and respect. In the classroom, teachers monitor such skills as problem solving, taking turns, and politely disagreeing.
In middle school, physical education classes often include lessons in sportsmanship, encouragement, and giving and receiving compliments. Teachers show what each skill looks and sounds like, and explain why it should be used. Encouragement, for example, looks like a thumbs-up, a pat on the back, or a high five, and it sounds like "Nice try," "You can do it," or "Way to go." The skills are practiced through games and activities, and students receive praise or rewards for using them.
Other social skills programs are available in learning or recreational centers and in clinical settings. Working with small groups of same-age children, counselors use role-playing and rehearsal to practice listening and responding, respecting personal space, reading social signals, coping with teasing, and managing anger.
On the home front
Parents can also convey the skills needed for social success. Use dinnertime and other gatherings to teach the rules of conversation. Act out difficult situations, like having an argument with a friend. Identify facial expressions in magazines and on TV.
Other ways you can help
- Create opportunities for your child to play with other children. Pair her with role models for good social skills, and with groups that will be supportive.
- Find a "teachable moment" to speak with your child about his inappropriate social behavior and the impact it has on friendships. Do this when the mood is calm—not in the middle of a conflict. Role-play scenarios and practice positive ways of responding.
- Work with your child to set achievable social goals. Make the goal as specific as possible: "I will say hello to Pam at lunch today."
- Identify and label improper behavior: "You're interrupting my conversation with your father." Do it in a neutral, nonjudgmental tone, and teach the correct social skill: "Please wait for a pause in the discussion, and say 'Excuse me.'"
- Point out appropriate social behavior exhibited by characters in books or on television. Have your child create similar scenarios using puppets or stuffed animals.
- Set up a points system to reinforce targeted social skills. These might be positive behaviors you'd like your child to display (compromising, greeting guests), or negative ones you'd like him to refrain from (yelling at friends). The rewards can be special activities, like a trip to the zoo, or privileges, such as staying up late.
Adapted from How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD, Second Edition, Copyright 2005 by Sandra F. Rief, and from The ADD/ADHD Checklist, Copyright 2002 by Sandra F. Rief. Both books are published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.