Friends at School

Make New Friends, Improve Grades

Feeling alone and friendless can have a serious impact on a child’s grades. Learn how teachers can include visual cues and parents can set up playdates to help enhance social skills, while also boosting grades.

ADHD Parents: Good Social Skills for Better Grades
ADHD Parents: Good Social Skills for Better Grades

Children with ADHD often have trouble making friends, and a lack of friends can result in low self-esteem and frustration. It can also get in the way of doing well academically. Russell Barkley, Ph.D., believes that these kids don’t have a social skills deficit, but a performance deficit. They know what to do, but fail to do it when it counts. Here are strategies that make a difference.

Tools for Teachers

  • Seek out adults. Positive interactions with adults are crucial to children with ADHD. Letting kids know that adults care gives them acceptance they don’t get from classmates. Ask other staff members, such as former teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, and support staff, to get to know your student. Ask them to encourage the student and celebrate small and large successes.
  • Plan ahead. Notice the situations in which your student has problems with classmates, and work on them. If a student touches others while standing in line, make her the line leader. Look for behavior patterns and create situations in which it is easier for the student to be successful. If a student is easily angered, don’t wait until he starts hitting another child. Notice the cues, and give him a break or change the task.
  • Teach a social skill of the day. We identify a specific social skill, such as taking turns speaking, and role-play the skill. During the day, the class accumulates points toward an end-of-the-week reward each time the behavior is displayed by a student.
  • Have the student measure his own progress. If a student is working on not interrupting others, let him tally up how many times he does it. At the start of the day, set an achievable goal with the student – keep interruptions to five today, say – and let the student keep count. If he goes over the limit, give him feedback.
  • Find role models. Pair kids who are weak in social skills with kids who are socially skilled. Put kids who have trouble socializing into supportive groups.
  • Use visual cues. Take photos of groups or individuals engaged in cooperative behavior and hang them in the classroom.

Pointers for Parents

  • Focus on your child’s interests. Talk with your child about what he enjoys – sports, martial arts, organized clubs and programs, such as Boy or Girl Scouts – and encourage him to join or participate. Kids interact better with those who share the same interests.
  • Set up play dates with kids of similar temperament. If your child is shy, find a friend who is reserved. Ask your child’s teacher whom he gets along with in class or whom might make a good social fit. Start out slow with younger children, by inviting only one child and keeping play dates short. As your child becomes more social, increase the length of the play dates.
  • Be the coach. Encourage your child to talk about his problems with friends. Our children usually open up during special events or outings involving just the two of us. Listen and empathize at first, then brainstorm ways, good and bad, to handle the problem. Talk about what might happen in each situation, and let your child choose a course of action. Follow up to see how your child handled the problem.
  • Be specific. Identify a specific social situation, skill, or rule your child needs help with. Telling your child to be nice to friends at a birthday party is too vague. Instead, tell him to make eye contact when someone is speaking with him. Rehearse appropriate behavior by acting it out. Children with ADHD have difficulty interpreting emotions and body language. Playing charades is a good way to act out emotions.
  • Include a social skills goal in the IEP. Services or accommodations may include a special-ed teacher or guidance counselor working with a child on making eye contact or entering into a group discussion.
  • Keep your kids with it. To help them get along better with their peers, parents should teach kids about the hot topics of conversation likely to interest their peers: the latest video or computer games, the current won-lost record of favorite sports teams, or popular musical groups.