Donna found her 8 year old son, Travis, sitting on the steps crying. When she sat down beside him he looked up at her and said, “Mom, why don’t the other kids like me?” Donna’s heart broke. She asked what had happened and Travis told her that when he tries to play with the other kids at recess they tell him “no” or just ignore him. He said he invited another boy over to play but he always found a reason not to join Travis.
Travis, like many other children with ADHD, had a hard time making and maintaining friends. He interrupts and jumps into conversations and his impulsiveness often causes him to say things that are hurtful to the other children. During class he blurts out the answers and talks constantly, sometimes making nonsense noises, disrupting those sitting around him. When one of the other children do talk to him, Travis doesn’t pay attention, looking around the room or just walking away when he gets bored with the conversation, leaving his classmate to think he is rude.
Why Children with ADHD Have Problems Making and Keeping Friends
As with Travis, your child may be impulsive and act without thinking. He may interrupt others when talking, appearing rude. He may get up from his seat or blurt out answers, annoying both his teacher and classmates with constant talking. He may blurt out insulting or embarrassing statements about classmates.
Your child may have a hard time following conversations, hearing only bits and pieces of what someone is saying. His inattention in the classroom leads to him not knowing the answer when the teacher calls on him or not being able to follow directions. Because his classmates don’t understand inattentiveness, they see him as not caring.
Inattention and not paying attention to details also leads to misunderstanding or misreading social cures. For example, suppose Travis butts into a conversation and begins talking non-stop. The other children show their annoyance on their faces but Travis doesn’t notice; when he ignores their looks, they feel as if he only cares about himself and doesn’t have any respect for their feelings.
Many children with ADHD have a hard time with self-awareness, not being able to look at their behaviors and figure out what they have done wrong in order to correct it the next time. Instead, they storm ahead with the same behaviors and are rebuffed again and again.
Tips for Parents
Use the following tips to work with your child to improve their social skills and help them learn how to make friends and how to be a friend.
Observe how your child plays with others. Take your child to the playground and watch how he interacts with others. Does he wait his turn to go on the slide? Does he respect other children’s personal space or does he get too close? Is he aggressive? Does he listen and follow directions? Because all children with ADHD are different, your child’s social skills difficulties will not be the same as another child’s problems. Write down what you observe so you can work with your child on the specific skills he seems to be lacking.
Talk to your child about specific behaviors. Based on what you observed, explain what your child could have done differently. Start with one behavior, for example, if your child jumped in front of other children to get on the slide first, talk about the importance of taking turns. Once your child improves that skill, begin to work on another.
Enlist the help of your child’s teacher. Set up a time to talk privately with your child’s teacher and explain your concerns. Ask if the teacher will help in focusing on the behavior you have chosen to focus on to reinforce the skill. Keep the lines of communication open; when you both see improvement on the specific social skill, discuss what other areas you can work together to help your child.
Set up play dates. Invite a classmate or neighbor over to play for a limited amount of time. Start with short periods of time to increase the chances of the play date going well and having the friend want to return another time. Make sure you are close by to intervene and solve any problems that come up, especially in the beginning. Try to schedule an activity that will be fun and structured so both your child and the friend end the time together on a good note.
Consider groups such as scouts to give your child a place to practice social skills in a structured, supervised environment. Talk to the leader and enlist his help in making it a positive experience for your child.
Role-play social situations to help your child view the situation from different perspectives. For example, one time you can play the role of your child and he can play the role of the friend and then switch roles.
If you have worked with your child but are still not satisfied with his progress, look for a social skills group in your area. Some psychologists will offer social skills training or you can check with your school’s guidance office to find out if they have a social skills program.
“ADD/ADHD Parenting Tips,” Updated 2011, June, Melinda Smith, Jeanne Segal, HelpGuide.org
“Help Your ADHD Child Make Friends,” Date Unknown, Gay Edelman, Ann Loftin, ADDitude Magazine
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.