Making Friends

Helping Kids Make Friends

How to help children who have trouble with social skills.

Toy trucks help make friends
Toy trucks help make friends

There are several reasons why a child with ADHD might have fewer friends or be less popular than his neurotypical classmates.

Gabor Maté, M.D. says the results of the University of Richmond research are consistent with his experience in working with children who have ADHD. The solution, he says, is to work with the child and the parents to develop social competence.

“Kids with ADHD don’t know how to read social cues. They don’t recognize the subtle non-verbal signals that indicate ‘I want more of you,’ or ‘I want less of you,'” explains Dr. Maté, author of Scattered, a book about the origins and treatment of ADHD. “Thus, they intrude when not invited, and carry on with behaviors that are resented by others.”

To correct these behaviors, Maté recommends that parents and teachers work to read, understand and respond to emotional cues given by their children. “It takes patience, acceptance, and insight, but that’s how the child/teenager learns to read the cues of others.”

“In other words,” says a thoughtful Maté, “we do it by means of our interactions with them and by our example, not through attempts at didactic teaching or behavior modification techniques, which all fail.”

Closely related to the inability to read social cues is the child’s need for almost constant validation. Children who have ADHD — and many adults with the disorder — often do not like themselves and cannot understand why anyone would want to be their friend. “Because of their low self-esteem, ADHD children have an almost insatiable need to be loved and accepted by their peers — at any cost.” Maté finds that his ADHD patients who are children project a deep vulnerability. “Children tend to punish weakness and vulnerability in others because they don’t accept it in themselves,” says Maté. “The ethic is to be “cool” — i.e., invulnerable. Thus they punish vulnerability in others, cruelly sometimes.”

Maté’s recommendation, again, is in the hands of the care-giving adults. “They are the ones whose responsibility it is to provide unconditional loving acceptance, despite whatever off-putting behavior on the part of the child. The more the child absorbs loving acceptance from parents, teachers, counselors, the more accepting he is of himself and the less he needs from his peers. He thus puts less pressure on peers, is less devastated by their rejection — and thereby becomes more attractive to them.”

Finally, Maté points out that kids with ADHD have poor emotional self-regulation. “They behave in extreme ways that are off-putting to their peers. They throw tantrums,can be overly compliant one minute, hostile the next.”

“This, once more, is a question of loving acceptance – but more than that. I cannot expect my child or student to develop emotional self-regulation if I lack it myself.” Maté believes that the power of a parental example cannot be overstated. “If I throw tantrums in response to my child’s behavior — something I personally have done more often than I’d care to count — I cannot expect that she will be self-regulating.”

“In short,” he says, “we adults must take responsibility for our own interactions with the child.”

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