Dear ADDitude: My Child Doesn’t Have Any Friends
“My 8-year-old is happy and friendly, but he doesn’t play with anyone at recess and doesn’t like to work in groups. Should I worry about this? It doesn’t seem to bother him.”
Reviewed on August 17, 2018
About half of kids with attention deficit disorder also have friendship problems. The things you named are some of the ways that parents can tell their child is running into trouble with friends. They report being alone at recess or they have friends sometimes and not others. They get along well and then poorly. Their acquaintances are not constant friends.
There are several pieces of ADHD that make it difficult for kids to make friends. Kids with ADHD tend to be socially behind their peers. They often times play better with younger children, but at recess they are thrown together with their peers.
Often, kids with ADHD aren’t sensitive to the social cues of others. What happens here is that the child’s ADHD behavior gets in the way. He’s trying to make friends with kids and, it turns out, he’s alienated those kids by standing too close while he talks, or jumping around, or being too chatty and loud. Parents can help kids learn these social skills that don’t come naturally. Your child may not want to join in with the group because he senses the high risk of rejection. Friends are important so your child has emotional support, and they can protect him from potential bullies.
Explain group dynamics, and how to make a new acquaintance by joining in with others who are playing. First your child should stand near two people he might be interested in meeting who are talking to each other. Look at them and say nothing, just listen. If he is interested in what they are saying, stick around. If not, move along. If he is still hanging around, tell him to notice if the two children start looking at him. If they do, they have invited him to join the conversation. If they don’t, just walk away.
What we found is that the best way to get the kids together at school and hang out at school is to have play dates. The more play dates you have with a particular child, the more likely they are to hang out at school. It’s a continuation of what went on at home.
Help your child find other kids who have similar interests, and then invite three or four of them to your house to do something your child enjoys and is good at – having pizza or playing a particular game.
Before the play date, remind kids that they aren’t always the boss, and help them live by the motto that the guest is always right. Then, make an excuse to hang around in a nearby room to make sure your child is following the rules you set up.
Fred Frankel, Ph.D.
Author of Friends Forever: How Parents Can Help Their Kids Make and Keep Good Friends
It breaks a momma’s heart for sure! My son misses a lot of the cues that he’s being brushed off and the like, thankfully, but he gets a lot of it too. Even if he doesn’t mind, I HATE it for him.
Does your son participate in any activities outside of school? It seems that getting him involved in group activities that he’s really passionate about and really enjoys will give him the opportunity to meet kids with similar interests, making the difficult task of finding friends a bit easier. Some clubs will even have a higher percentage of “quirky” kids in them, giving him an even greater chance of relating.
When you stop and think about social interactions in depth, they are quite complicated and require understanding of subtlety and nuance many kids with ADHD don’t get. A social skills group could help with friendships: Friendship Groups for Children with ADHD.
As for the social issues at school, reach out to the guidance counselor and his teachers. It’s not okay for him to be alone every day at recess (unless that’s really what he wants). Ask them to help him connect with another student at recess. We have had teachers help with this during recess and also had guidance counselors plan lunch with my son and one other student he wanted to get to know. It is helpful when they pick a student that may be shy or quirky.
Posted by Penny
ADDitude community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism
A Reader Answers
It’s hard for kids this young to understand everything, but I would look to see about a local art class on weekends where your son might share interests with other kids. See if there is a parents club at school. Talk to other moms at carpool. See what they are doing, or if their child has had trouble making friends in the past.
I found flag football for an hour on Saturdays. My son, 7, doesn’t love it but he gets to see other boys from his school and he gets to have some exercise.
Try and try and don’t give up, and give your son lots of TLC.
Posted by ASCG
A Reader Answers
You know us non-ADHD parents can look at this from a different perspective than our ADHD kids. I know I freaked out a little because my daughter seemed to have no friends in 1st grade. I was thinking she should have tons of friends like I did, but for ADHD kids, one or two may be enough.
There are things you can do. Reach out to his teacher and tell the teacher he doesn’t have any friends to play with. Teachers notice who gets along and can rearrange seating to his advantage. The school counselor, if available, should be informed. I know at our school – even for my non-ADHD but shy child – the school intervened to make sure he had a friend. Because it IS important to grow socially at school. The school understands this.
Posted by YellaRyan
A Reader Answers
I would ask to observe your son at school or on the playground, and see how he interacts with kids. A lot of my son’s problems were that he didn’t have the skills to join a group, make new friends, interact during play—partly due to not paying attention to social cues that most kids get. He’s currently an only child, and we had just moved, so it was even harder. Once we started addressing specific situations—“This is what you say when this happens . . . ” —then it got easier and easier.
Break it down, and maybe focus on one social manner a week. Playing with his cousins was also great. The more experience the better.
Also remember that we all go through hard times, no matter what, so just making the most of it and learning from it is a good way to go. Your son will probably be able to relate to more people in the long run, because he’ll know what it’s like to be the outsider.
Posted by Stephanne
A Reader Answers
Group activities can help a lot. Your son also could benefit from some help in the form of social skills training. If you can find a coach, counselor, or psychologist who can help him with social skills, it could give him a leg up, so to speak. Also, finding someone who can help you help him could ease your worries.
I teach parents how to do “social autopsies” with their kids after a social interaction, and break down what went well versus things that went poorly.
Having friends come to your house to play on your child’s “turf” one at a time can be really helpful. It also gives you an opportunity to watch from a distance to see where your child can improve.
Good luck and hang in there! It’s very hard for us as parents to watch our kids struggle with friendships, but I promise it gets better.
Posted by ADD_Coach_Lynne
A Reader Answers
I have noticed that a lot of kids with ADHD seem to also lack some kind of social acumen- not totally picking up on social cues. I see this with my son, but you know, I find that most of the time he’s doing better than I think he is. We worry so much about our children. I am trying to channel my worry into acceptance and hope.
Hang in there. I know how worrisome and exhausting this can be! Be sure to do good things for yourself, a long bath, some time with a friend… and if you have any friends with children, maybe you can get together.
I found with my son that just one friend can make all the difference. Be kind to yourself and your beautiful child.
Posted by Ilana