Friends at School

Social Skills Training for Kids with ADHD

Social skills don’t always develop naturally. But even the most impulsive children with ADHD can learn to get along with the group and make friends on the playground. Learn how acknowledging bad feelings and celebrating success can help your child develop social skills.

Treating Tic Disorders and ADHD: Medication and Therapy
Treating Tic Disorders and ADHD: Medication and Therapy

How Can I Help My Child Improve Social Skills?

Recess, lunch time, and class trips are a welcome break for some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). For others, socializing outside the structure of the classroom poses problems. If your child has trouble getting along with others, social skills role-playing may help him develop some playground savvy.

How Does Social Skills Role-Playing Work?

Role-playing works with almost any child who is old enough to talk. It’s especially good for teaching children how to deal with teasing – a problem familiar to many children with ADHD.

Consider the case of 9-year-old Jesse, a boy I recently treated. Jesse’s parents sought my help because he overreacted to playful (but hurtful) banter that came his way during recess. On one occasion, after Jesse did something silly, a playmate laughed and called him a “turkey head.” Enraged, Jesse shoved the boy and burst into tears.

Jesse acknowledged the shoving, but said to me, “He started it!” He felt it was the other boy who needed to change. I explained to Jesse that he couldn’t always control what other people did, but that he always had a choice of how to react. “You’re the boss of yourself,” I told him. This idea empowered him.

[Free Download: 14 Ways to Help Your Child With ADHD Make Friends]

Talking things over comforted Jesse, and I decided that role-playing might help him avoid future incidents. Here are the steps we used successfully that you might try with your child:

  • Define the social problem. Talk things over until you understand the exact nature of the problem your child’s facing. Jesse’s problem was that he felt angry and sad when kids called him names and couldn’t stop himself from lashing out physically.
  • Acknowledge bad feelings. Let your child know that it’s normal to be upset by teasing. Jesse’s parents and I made sure that he understood this — and that it was not OK for other children to pick on him.
  • Discuss alternative ways to respond. Explain to your child that there are many ways to respond to teasing, some good and some not so good. Shoving the teaser was a bad choice. Jesse and I explored better options, including walking away and saying, “I don’t care,” over and over, until the teaser got bored. Ultimately, Jesse decided he’d simply say, “Please stop it.” He decided that this direct statement would give him a sense of control over the situation.
  • Reenact the social situation. Once you’ve armed your child with socially acceptable ways to respond, let him play the role of the child being teased while you play the teaser. Then switch roles, varying the “script” to explore the different ways in which the scenario could play out.

[The Friendship Guide for Kids with ADHD (and Their Parents, Too)]

  • Celebrate success. If your child comes home announcing that he used the lessons learned in role-playing, congratulate him. Give him a high-five, and tell him how proud you are – even if he didn’t do everything you practiced. This is not the time to nitpick.

Role-playing didn’t help Jesse right away. But one day, a few weeks after we began our sessions, he was beaming when he came into my office. Once again, a playmate had teased him, but this time Jesse hadn’t struck back. “I told him I didn’t care what he thought,” Jesse explained.

Over time, as we continued our sessions, Jesse got even better at controlling his behavior on the playground. Other children accepted him as one of the gang, and that made him feel good about himself.

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