How to Help Kids with ADHD Make Friends
Kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may struggle with friendships. Here's how you can help, as a parent and a friend.
Incomplete homework assignments and a tendency to be easily distracted in class are often what come to mind when we think of students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but ADHD can affect more than academics.
“What kids find most painful about living with ADHD is often the friendship problem,” says Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, psychologist from Princeton, NJ and author of the book Growing Friendships.
Studies have found that more than half of children with ADHD have difficulty with friendships. Children with hyperactivity and impulsivity often have trouble when they have to take turns or filter what they say. Children who are inattentive may not remember names or plans they’ve made, and often miss social cues. The good news is more focus is being given to strategies to help children with ADHD strengthen social skills and develop friendships.
“We know that kids with ADHD have fewer playdates than other kids,” says Dr. Jenelle Nissley-Tsiopinis, psychologist at the Center for the Management of ADHD at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Parents may shy away from playdates because they can be a challenge or because there isn’t enough time, since kids with ADHD often take longer to complete homework and other daily activities. Still, Nissley-Tsiopinis says, “Research has shown that the more playdates a child has the better they do socially.”
Claire Noyes, mother of two grown children with ADHD and coordinator of BuxMont CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD) says that “because executive functions are often delayed, sometimes you have to do social engineering later than you’d expect. I arranged pizza and a movie with friends for my son when he was 14.”
Prep for social interactions
If you pick an activity your child enjoys and keep it short enough to end on a high note, you can set him up for success.
Before a social event, talk to your child about how she can handle situations. “Ask questions like, ‘What are you going to do if this happens?’ and have your child answer. Role playing can also help,” says Kennedy-Moore.
If you have a playdate at your house, have your child come up with two options and let the guest choose. Make sure your child understands it is his job to make sure his visitor has a good time.
Children with ADHD sometimes don’t detect stop signals from friends. Help him learn the signals and propose techniques to control the behavior that triggered it. Suggest, for example, he sit on his hands in order to stay still or pretend his tongue is glued to the top of his mouth so he doesn’t talk so much.
Keep an ear out for tension or boredom when your child is with friends, but don’t correct him in front of the others or later.
“A correction later makes him feel bad because he can’t fix it,” says Nissley-Tsiopinis. Instead, you can redirect in the moment with a snack or a new activity.
Kennedy-Moore says you can also call your child into another room and give gentle feedback. For instance, you can say, “I know you’re trying to be helpful. When you yell how to play the video game, your friend may feel uncomfortable and not want to play.” Then ask, “What can you do to make your friend feel better?” or offer a new activity.
Remember to praise your child for positive behavior. Nissley-Tsiopinis says, “Reward your child with points they can cash in to stay up later or get extra screen time.”
“It’s important to be gentle with criticisms,” says Kennedy-Moore. “Because friendships can be a challenge, make family interactions as positive as possible.”
Susan Stopper is a Pennsylvania-based freelance writer.