Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can affect a child in many different ways. Most people know that ADHD can cause children to struggle with things like sitting still, being quiet, paying attention, and staying organized. But ADHD also can make it hard for children to make friends.
In a classroom of 30 children, it is likely that at least 2 students are affected by ADHD.1 Exactly how ADHD adds to social problems is not understood fully, but children with ADHD often have trouble with simple social interactions and struggle to follow social cues. Children with ADHD are half as likely to have many good friends and are less likely to play with a group of friends, compared to children without ADHD.2
Having good friends adds to children’s happiness and impacts their mental health and development. In some cases, children with peer problems may be at higher risk for anxiety, behavioral and mood disorders, substance abuse, and delinquency as teenagers.3
Having ADHD does not mean children always have poor relationships with their peers. Parents and caring adults often can help children with ADHD to make friends. Here are a few ways to help:
- Keep in regular contact with the adults who are involved in the lives of children with ADHD. These adults include teachers, school counselors, after-school activity leaders, health care providers, and faith leaders. Keep them informed about your child’s ADHD treatments and, when possible, ask them to help your child improve his peer relationships.For example, ask the adult leaders to make sure that they avoid belittling him in front of his peers. If the adult in charge belittles the child, other children may think it’s okay for them to belittle the child as well.4
- Involve your child in activities with her peers. Many children with ADHD do well with structure in their daily routines, so look for a class or program that interests your child and that meets consistently. Find your child’s interest and build on it! Many children with ADHD also do better in small groups of people rather than large groups.For example, an art class of 8 students that meets every Wednesday at 3 p.m. may suit a child with ADHD better than a soccer team of 20 people that practices on both Tuesday at 6 p.m. and Friday at 3 p.m. and holds games on random weekends. Find an activity the child really likes and support her efforts.
- Coach your child about the social settings he might face, and help him come up with ideas about what to do. For example, if he finds himself sitting alone on the bus, help him practice asking, “May I sit here?” Even though it may feel uncomfortable, roleplay these scenes so that your child starts to feel more confident in social settings. Also talk about how to handle positive and negative outcomes. It’s not easy to prepare your child to respond to rejection, but learning to cope when things don’t go his way is an important social skill.
- Help build your child’s self-esteem. It’s easy for kids with ADHD to feel like they’re always in trouble and that no one-not even Mom or Dad-likes them. Let your child know that-in addition to loving her-you like her. That will help her feel likeable and may make it easier to share her wonderful traits with others. Look for a social skills group geared toward children with ADHD. These classes are being offered in more and more communities, and they can help your child learn how to act in social settings.
- Regular, everyday activities can be challenging for children with ADHD-and this includes making friends. Parents often want children with ADHD to direct their energy toward getting good grades and staying out of trouble, but helping kids with ADHD make friends is important, too. With help from their parents and other caring adults, children with ADHD can build lasting friendships, and in doing so, they will build their own health and happiness.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services. Children’s Mental Health Facts: Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, last referenced 9/26/2006.
- New York University Child Study Center, 2001. ADHD Not Just a School-Day Disorder, last referenced 9/26/2006.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006. Peer Relationships and ADHD, last referenced 9/26/2006.
- ComeUnity. Teacher Tips: Improving Social Skills in ADHD Students, last referenced 9/26/2006.