Making Friends

What Kids Need When Classmates Reject Them

When friendships fail for kids with ADHD, parents can save the day with these helpful strategies for improving social skills — like talking to him and signing him up for new activities — and salvage self-esteem.

school making friends lonely adhd

Your son takes medication and goes to behavioral therapy two times a week. Great! He focuses better and is less impulsive, but the treatments haven’t done much for peer problems for these three kids:

Drew, 11, had a special item on his Christmas list last year. Right below the video game Angry Birds, he asked for a friend. When his mom, Julia, read it, she excused herself and went into the bathroom to cry.

Barbara was excited over the new smartphone she got for her twelfth birthday. When the phone prompted her to input friends’ phone numbers, it took her five seconds. Barbara has one “friend,” sort of, from the school science club, who returns Barbara’s calls when she feels like it.

Mark, 14, asked his mom to take a day trip with him on Saturday morning. His mom, Jennifer, reminded him that he had a birthday party to go to later that day and said they could take the trip next weekend. “My friend dis-invited me yesterday,” said Mark, quietly. “He texted me, saying that the party is just for his closest friends. He’s sorry, but he made a mistake.” Mark’s mom wanted to give an earful to the friend’s parents, but decided that it would make her son, and his ADHD, stand out more.

We all know that kids with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) need friends, or just a good buddy they can count on when they want to laugh, cry, or act goofy. Parents of kids with ADHD take creative avenues — befriending parents they don’t like because their son gets along with their son — to arrange friendships for them.

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

A new study in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology suggests that while having friends sets the table for a successful life, being rejected by those friends pulls the tablecloth out from under a child in ways that parents or children can’t imagine.

Kids with ADHD who are rejected have higher rates of cigarette smoking, delinquency, anxiety, mood disorders, and are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior, which can last into adulthood.

Kids who are shown the door by classmates …

  • lose out on practicing social skills in the real world
  • don’t have the caring and perspective of a friend to blunt the rejection
  • withdraw or act out to cope with the hurt of being rejected, which leads to more rejection.

Moms and dads, say the experts, can short-circuit this downward spiral of hopelessness and isolation with a savvy game plan.

[Click to Read: “How Can I Get My Son’s Classmates to Treat Him Better?”]

Keep teaching social skills to your child, but let him road test those skills in a safe, welcoming venue outside the home: a get-together at grandmother’s house or a small pizza party with cousins. Role-playing with Mom in the dining room won’t sharpen skills as much as practicing them in a back-and-forth conversation with others.

Show her new worlds. School is an important part of your child’s world, but not her only one. Expand your daughter’s horizons by signing up her up for an activity that she loves — kick boxing, Irish dancing — and let the magic happen. Kids who share a passionate interest don’t have to fish for things to talk about. It comes naturally during, and more importantly, after the activity. Set up play dates that center around their interest. If Irish dancing is your daughter’s thing, rent a video of River Dance or go to a local performance with her friends from dance class.

Talk with him — always. There is a fine line between prying and getting the front-page headlines about your child’s week at school. Knowing that a popular classmate told him he couldn’t sit at the lunch table gives you a head’s-up to look for some of the negative consequences that rejection triggers — and the savvy to nip them in the bud.

Accept him with all your heart. True, a mom and dad’s acceptance doesn’t compare with that of a cool classmate, but it takes away some of the hurt of being rejected. On some level, acceptance is healing, no matter where it comes from. So go easy on him — instead of tearing down the smidgen of confidence he has left by harping about math homework, bedrooms from hell, and lesser problems. There will be time enough for all that when he has regained his footing.

[Read This Next: How to Handle Birthday Parties, the Cafeteria, and Other Social Obstacles]