Social Skills Training for Children with ADHD

Patient Expert

Very few children are naturals at social interaction and sail through childhood making friends effortlessly, but children with ADHD/ADD have a harder time socializing than most. I remember being laughed at when I marched up to my 4th grade crush and told him I liked him and wanted him to come over to my house (in front of his friends). I was terrible at picking up on social cues and figuring out the unspoken rules.

Even more painful than my own memories is the possibility that my son might go through the same thing, although his issues are a little different than mine were. For some reason, I was more ADD than ADHD when I was a kid, but my son is very definitely in the ADHD camp. As such, he often has problems with being bossy, interrupting other people and not wanting to take turns. If you're the parent of a child with ADHD, you might be in the same position and wondering how to help.

What about medication?

Medication can help in decreasing impulsiveness and aggressiveness. It can give the child that filter (mental speed bump) that children without ADHD have, that gives them time to think, "If I throw that I'll get into trouble," or "If I say that, I'll hurt his feelings." However, on its own, medication is unlikely to improve a child's social interactions greatly. Children with ADD will not learn how to communicate more effectively with medication. Children need to be taught social skills.

Some of the social skills that children with ADHD frequently need to work on are:

  • Not interrupting or talking out in a group situation, like class
  • Making eye contact when speaking to someone (can help in picking up on social cues)
  • Not taking over an activity and being bossy
  • Taking turns

Social skills therapy

Social skills therapy is treatment that helps children identify and address social problems. This is usually done in a group therapy setting, since a large component of the therapy is rehearsing and role-playing with other children in the group, although chances are that the therapist will want the child to practice at home with family members.

If your child is in group social skills therapy, you can also have practice play dates with other children outside the group setting (with the therapist's approval). Both parents can help the kids practice correct behaviors, and smooth out the rough edges with someone who understands what challenges they face.

In addition, you might want to review social skills prior to social outings like a birthday party. Ask your child pertinent questions like "What do you say to _'s parents when you come in?" and perhaps role-play to make sure your child isn't just parroting the answer.

Improving your child's social skills is going to take time, and like any skill, will need to be practiced. Don't get discouraged if you don't see immediate improvement. The process will resemble a marathon more than a race, but the end result will be better and healthier social interactions for your child.