Published on ADDitudeMag.com

"Mom, I Made a New Friend!"

Social skills do not come naturally to children with ADHD. Help your child make and keep buddies by following these “friendly” strategies.


Give Him the Words -- and the Praise

Demonstrate and rehearse social skills with your child. Cover everything from maintaining eye contact, to interrupting, to saying harsh things at a play date. Instead of his saying “This is boring,” teach him to say, “Can we play something else for a little while?” Instead of saying “That’s a stupid game you picked,” teach him to say, “How about we play Chutes and Ladders?” Progress often comes slowly, so praise him for his efforts every inch of the way.

Teach Group Dynamics

Kids make new acquaintances by joining others who are playing:
> Stand near two people you might be interested in meeting at a party who are talking to each other. Look at them and say nothing, just listen. If you are interested in what they are saying, stick around. If not, move on.
> If you are still hanging around, notice if the two children start looking at you. If they do, they have invited you into the conversation. If they don’t look at you, they want to be alone. Just walk away.

Be a Play Date Observer

Talk to your child about what makes a good friend, and which behaviors are, and are not, appropriate. Coach your child on how to behave during a play date—say hello, don’t interrupt, etc. Make an excuse to hang around in a nearby room to see how things go. Parents who get the best results intervene at the “point of performance”—in the setting where and when the skill is required. As your child gets older, it’s best to let him handle social situations on his own, but be available to talk.

Look for Younger Friends -- at First

Because many ADHD kids lag behind their peers in social skills, they tend to be more immature than those without ADHD. As a result, ADHD kids may feel more comfortable playing with younger children. Your child will be able to practice his friendship skills without being made fun of. As a bonus, the younger friend will most likely look up to his older buddy, instilling self-esteem and confidence in him. As he masters social skills, chances are he will make friends with peers.

Join Forces at School

Talk with the teacher and ask if she can pair up students to tackle some classwork and projects together. Your child won’t get lost in the chaotic process of picking partners and feel left out and unconnected. Plus, working with a classmate will strongly encourage your child to practice his social skills.

It Is Different for Girls

Girls with ADHD have more trouble with relationships than do boys. They feel the sting of peer rejection more than their counterparts. A girl with ADHD may be slow to pick up on social cues and may even be verbally aggressive when she feels frustrated. Try stoking the sparks of friendship by volunteering to take your daughter and a friend on a fun outing—the amusement park or to the beach. If you take two friends, there is a chance that they might pair off and exclude your daughter.

Friendships Start at Home

Invite three or four friends to your house to do something your child enjoys—having pizza or playing a video game. Plan special events around special holidays: You could have a Cinco de Mayo festival or an MTV Video Award party. If your child shies away from groups, as do many ADHD children, invite just one or two friends over.  

Exercise His Social Skills at School

Teachers can help children make friends by taking playground breaks from the classroom routine whenever possible. Children relax when they play games that everyone knows — and they forget their differences. Weakness that may show up in the classroom may disappear on the playground. Choose noncompetitive games, like “Amoeba Tag,” in which the goal is for everyone to be “It.”

Wait for a Teachable Moment

As your child learns new social skills, don’t blast him when he makes missteps. Be patient and pick up a cue from your child to gently suggest advice. If your child complains that no one likes her or she doesn’t have any friends, hear her out. Then say, “Sometimes kids with ADD have trouble getting along with friends. There are some things you can do to get along better with your friends. Want to hear about them?” At this point, she will be all ears.

Create Special Moments

Plan 15 minutes of quality time with your child several times each week. Do fun things together, just the two of you, without directing or criticizing his behavior. If you’re at a baseball game, talk about his favorite player or whether the team has a chance of winning the World Series. Building a relationship with your child pays off in terms of friendships. Some studies show that when parents work on relationship-building at home, they see better behavior in a child’s peer relationships right away.

Get with a Program

Sometimes the direct approach works best. Sign up your child for a social skills program outside of school or talk with the guidance counselor or special needs teacher in your school to form a social skills group. Educational experts highly recommend the following programs: Project ACHIEVE’s Stop & Think Social Skills Program; Skillstreaming the Adolescent, developed by Arnold Goldstein and Ellen McGinnis; and “Social Skills Autopsy,” developed by Rick Lavoie.

Find His Passion

Some children benefit from team sports; others prefer solo activities. Team sports and activities can teach your child skills that often lead to friendships off the field. Before signing your child up, talk to the coach or teacher. Have a frank discussion about whether your child with ADHD would be welcome. Go with your child to meet the coach and other teammates before the first practice. Determine if the coach encourages fun and praises their efforts—or if he would be too competitive.

Show Him How it Is Done

The simple acts of making friends with other parents, having relatives over for dinner, and keeping in touch with friends through PTA groups and church teaches your child about social skills. Showing your child how you make friends may give him clues on how he can do it. Plus, telling other parents about your child’s social issues makes them more likely to take an interest. They might encourage other children to include your child in activities.

Turn Teasing on its Head

Good social skills can help fend off a bully. The most effective technique for deflecting teasing is humor. Rehearse humorous comebacks to classmates who tease your child. He should never tease back. Some examples include: “Boo-hoo” (said half-heartedly and pretending to rub one eye with a closed fist), “So what?”, “I heard that one in kindergarten,” “Tell me when you get to the funny part,” “And your point is…”, “Talk to the hand ‘cause the face ain’t listening.”

Meds Can Help

If your child’s impulsive behavior— interrupting or constantly jumping from one thing to the next—gets in the way of his making friends, ADHD medication can help. Work with your child’s doctor to find the right dosage, keeping in mind that the hormonal changes caused by puberty can change how children metabolize medication.

Don't Push Too Hard

Not every child with ADHD will be a social butterfly—and that’s OK. Studies show that having one close friend is enough to develop self-confidence. Most socially isolated children will eventually learn how to handle their behaviors and establish friendships on their own. Once adolescence hits, kids tend to act on the urge to fit in.

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