Making Friends

Actually, Words Can Hurt You. How to Hit Back

Kids with attention deficit don’t always know how to steer clear of bullies. Get the target off his back with these smart social strategies for reading social cues, toning down impulsive behavior, and defusing bullying once and for all.

Target with darts stuck in, representing ADHD superpowers
Target with darts

Children with ADHD face more than academic challenges. They find nonverbal and social communication hard, and may act in ways at school that attract the attention of bullies. Some kids with ADHD are clumsy and unaware of normal spatial boundaries compared with non-ADHD kids. All of these challenges make kids with ADHD prime targets for bullies.

Here are some ways that parents can get the target off their kids’ backs.

1. Explain to your child what ADHD is and tell him that there’s nothing wrong with him. Find out whether he is aware of his social behaviors. Some kids may understand ADHD symptoms, but are unable to control their words and actions. Others are blind to their behaviors.

2. Ask your child what he was doing right before the bullying started and what he might do differently next time to avoid it. This will help your child figure out what triggered the bully to act. The less aware the child is, the harder it is to change his behavior.

3. Give your child some verbal tools to defuse the bully. Your child might say with a smile, “OK, you’re the winner — you win, I lose,” and walk away. Bullies love arguments, so a little indifference takes the wind out of their sails.

4. Videotape your child during play dates and play it back to her to teach what she may need to change. It is helpful to videotape an ADHD child’s sibling acting in a more appropriate way to demonstrate the difference. If you tape her sibling, avoid saying things like, “Look how great he is.” Instead, use the sibling for role-play, so you can get the sibling’s feedback on his brother’s or sister’s behavior in a safe, positive setting.

5. Because bullying often takes place during sporting activities, especially team sports, it’s probably better for your ADHD child to participate in individual sports like rollerblading, skateboarding, skiing, bike riding, cross country running, and gymnastics. Body coordination is essential for brain development, so athletics will help your child build strength and confidence.

6. No matter what, be patient with your child. Many children with ADHD have unusual talents, and you should help your child explore and develop these gifts. To avoid behaviors that may make other children angry or annoyed, explain it this way: “There are things you are great at and things you are a little behind in. Let’s work together on the things you’re behind in.” You will discover that, most of the time, children with ADHD are eager to change their behaviors.