Self Esteem

When Best Friends Abandon Your Middle Schooler: ADHD Self-Esteem & Social Coaching

Middle school self-esteem too often nosedives for adolescents with ADHD, many of whom struggle to make friends and heed social cues. From smart social media use to careful questioning, here’s how parents can help boost a tween’s wavering confidence.

For the fifth straight day, my 11-year-old daughter, who has ADHD, slumped into the car and cried, her middle school self-esteem ravaged.

Since kindergarten, she’d been part of a triad — three friends who did everything together. Now, in middle school, the other two girls were drifting away. All of the ADHD traits that once made my daughter funny and interesting to her friends – like her curious knack for mismatched clothing, her impulsive blurting, and the odd noises she’d sometimes make – were now considered embarrassing and weird. Worse, her lack of self-awareness made it hard to understand why she was losing her friends.

Shifting social circles is the norm in middle school, but it can be a particularly confusing, painful blow to the self-esteem of a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD). If your child seems to be struggling socially during these tween years, here are four ways you can help them develop social skills and nurture their middle school self-esteem — without helicoptering too much.

Middle School Self-Esteem Help for Tweens with ADHD

Encourage Thoughtful Social Media Use

Social media generally rears its head in middle school, and it erases the known boundaries of parenting frontiers. Before allowing your child on Instagram or Tik Tok, set the rules for its use, with the understanding that you have full access to monitor all social media.

Online socializing is also frequently the cause of confusion, cyber-bullying, and fear of missing out, but social media platforms can also be a social training ground. They provide time, for example, to pause before responding, and an opportunity to check in with an adult about possible social meanings and ways to reply.

[Essential Reading: Building (Real) Friendships in the Age of Snapchat and Instagram]

Reviewing texts, video game interactions, and school chat room conversations with your child can help them avoid misinterpretations. Remember to ask your child for their interpretation before offering your own to foster empowerment.

Gently Guide Your Tween to Their Own Conclusions

The painful truth might be that your child’s former friends no longer want to be friends. Rather than problem solving that situation, it may be best to frame questions that allow your child to come to their own conclusions about friendships. Ask questions about what makes a good friend, how their old friends are behaving, and what they like and don’t like about it. Help them see that better friendships might be possible, and that the benefits to their self-esteem are significant.

Don’t Rehash Your Middle-School Memories

If you still have nightmares of your own middle school angst, you may become overly focused on your child’s experience. Doing so will make your child anxious and will plant the idea that social success equals having good answers to your questions. Instead, focus on what your child enjoys, or is grateful for, in their day, and look for ways to expand on those experiences. At one point, my daughter’s only social refuge was helping the librarian shelve books during lunch hour; she was grateful for the escape until she found some new friends.

Self-Esteem Goes Beyond the School Doors

For some children, school is not the hub of social success. Many children with ADHD are good at sports, art, theater, or martial arts, and these extracurricular activities bring new friends and increase self-esteem (and help with ADHD symptoms!). Volunteering and helping others are also good ways to take the focus off a painful social situation.

Your child also may be a late bloomer. It is painful to watch, but the social hiccups of middle school don’t last forever. If you can bolster their self-esteem through activities and your own support, your child will find their way to new friends. One new friend who thinks you’re funny is better than two old ones who roll their eyes at your mismatched outfit!

[Read This Next: Will My Child Ever Have a Best Friend?]


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Updated on September 9, 2020

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