Role Playing to Teach Children with ADHD Social Skills

By Eileen Bailey

Children with ADHD frequently have problems with social skills. They may miss “cues” from the person they are with, not understand personal boundaries, impulsively interrupt others when they are speaking or simply feel as if they do not belong. Some children may be emotionally immature, not able to relate to children their own age, making them feel isolated and alone. All children need friends. They need to have someone to talk with, someone they feel accepted by, someone that understands and accepts them.


Parents help children learn social skills by setting an example. Children watch how adults interact with one another and try to mimic that behavior. Parents can also provide opportunities for children to interact with other children, through activities such as clubs, church groups or play dates. But sometimes, all of this is not enough and our children still feel alone.


Rather than talking with your child about how to make friends, it is sometimes helpful to role-play and provide them with the not only the knowledge, but the skills to get along with other children. Role-playing has been used by therapists and counselors for many years. It is an active learning experience and by learning and doing the lessons taught can become part of your child’s every day life.


Before you begin a role-playing session, take some time to prepare. Some of the things you might want to think about beforehand:

  • What types of problems are they having in trying to make friends?
  • Do they make friends but have a problem keeping friends?
  • What behaviors might be stopping them from making friends?

You will want to begin with improving one or two behaviors at a time. It might be helpful to talk with other adults in your child’s life. Teachers and group leaders can often offer insight into social skills that you may not see and can help narrow down a few behaviors that might be most often interfering with making friends.


Once you have a clear understanding of what may be stopping your child from having friends, you can begin to develop several scenarios to start role-playing. When starting role-playing, begin with two or three scenarios. This can help to keep you focused on improving one or two social skills at a time, rather than overwhelming your child.

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