Friends at School

Lots of Transitions, Lots of Gains

As your child enters middle school, friendships and peer relationships take on new importance. Here’s how you can help set her up for social success.

group of middle school girls with ADHD walking up stairs, talking
group of middle school girls walking up stairs, talking

The school environment changes in the middle years. Instead of loads of structure and guidance, as your child had in elementary school, students are expected to manage more of their life on their own. At the same time, the students themselves are changing. They are less motivated to please adults and more motivated to impress peers. As they search for their own identities, the social scene becomes more important. It is a confusing time for students with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), but with the right support, they can thrive!

What Teachers Can Do

Help students get comfortable in your class with fun activities that help everyone get to know each other. The time you invest in breaking the ice at the beginning of the term will pay dividends later in encouraging positive and motivating relationships that develop in your classroom.

SUPPORT EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES. As you get to know your students, encourage them to get involved in activities that match their interests. Structured activities help middle-schoolers feel connected in school. Success in other school-related activities is an important source of motivation in the classroom.

ENCOURAGE PARTNER AND SMALL-GROUP COLLABORATION. Allow students to collaborate with a partner or a small group on research, assignments, and projects — but be proactive about matching students up. It’s easy for students — with or without ADHD — to get lost in the chaotic process of picking partners and to feel left out instead of connected.

BE A MENTOR. Middle-school students are dealing with many life transitions. Let your students know they can turn to you for support. The support of one teacher can transform a student’s life!

[Free ADHD Resource: Middle School Success Strategies]

What Parents Can Do

GIVE OPPORTUNITIES FOR SOCIAL ACTIVITIES. “The best group therapy is a structured group with a common goal,” says Dr. Ned Hallowell, co-author of the best-selling Driven to Distraction. Extracurricular activities help adolescents feel connected. They are especially useful for giving shy students a way to connect with peers through a shared activity.

FIND A MENTOR. Young adolescents need adult guidance, but won’t always be willing or able to get it from parents. Encourage your child to find a trusted adult mentor at school — a favorite teacher, counselor, or coach. With trusted adult figures in his life, he will have a great deal of support and perspective to draw on.

SIGN UP FOR A SOCIAL-SKILLS PROGRAM. Programs recommended by education specialist Chris Dendy, M.S., are: Project ACHIEVE’s Stop & Think Social Skills Program; Skillstreaming the Adolescent, developed by Arnold Goldstein and Ellen McGinnis; and “Social Skills Autopsy,” developed by Rick Lavoie.

CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR INVITING KIDS TO YOUR HOUSE. Teach your child to build friendships in the safety of his home. Invite three or four kids over to do something your child enjoys — having pizza or playing a video game. Plan special events around special holidays: You could have a Cinco de Mayo fiesta or an MTV Video Awards party.

[The Testing Ground for Executive Functions? Sixth Grade]

COACH SOCIAL SKILLS. As social situations become more important to your middle-schooler, so do social skills. But social expectations can be frustrating to adolescents, especially if they have trouble picking up cues from their surroundings. Teach your child how to deal with everyday social situations. Demonstrate and rehearse until your child knows the right words to say and actions to take. Studies show that social skills are more important for career success than academic skills.