The symptoms of ADHD – hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and immaturity – can make social interactions for children with ADHD very difficult. Without a refined ability to read social cues, your child might find him or herself constantly interrupting others, unable to listen, unwilling to share, invading others’ personal space and otherwise alienating their peers. This, in turn, can cause your child to develop depression and anxiety, and shy away from social interactions. However, there are many ways you can help your ADHD child build social skills they need to foster positive relationships with others.
Be a Social Coach
Every chance you get, whether it’s in the grocery store or on the playground, be your child’s social coach. Formulate several “social plays” for your child to practice. For example, practice maintaining good personal space with your child at home. Let them know when they are too close, and also have them tell you how close is close enough. Then give them opportunities in the real world to practice their newfound skills. Be sure to provide them with feedback – especially when they demonstrate positive growth towards skill mastery.
Clearly Define the Skills
Telling your child who has ADHD to “play nice” is virtually meaningless. Get away from vague instructions and provide structured details in positive terms regarding how your child should strive to act. For example, on a play date, tell your child that you’ll be watching to make sure he shares his toys with his playmate. Reiterate that when you catch him being good, you’ll let him know how pleased you are. Positive reinforcement works very well for shaping behavior and will help your ADHD child build social skills.
Choose Playmates Carefully
When inviting other children over to play, be sure they are good role models who exhibit good social skills. Also be sure they have demonstrated an ability to positively interact with your child. If a new friend is coming over, keep the first interaction short – perhaps no more than 45 minutes to an hour. That’s plenty of time to determine if it’s a good match.
Identify Your Child’s Interests
If your child is especially interested in electronics, don’t enroll him in a summertime art class. Building social skills is oftentimes much easier in the context of an interesting activity, so playing to your child’s interests and strengths can make social interactions with other children much more natural. Additionally, involving your child in an activity of interest with other children who have the same interest is a great way for your child to meet new friends.
These are just a few ways to help your ADHD child build social skills. Bear in mind that it will likely be a long process that requires a lot of coaching, persistence and patience on your part. However, the benefits your child derives from their improved social skills will be more than worth the effort. Not only will they have more positive interactions with their peers, they will learn to manage their ADHD symptoms by modifying their behavior. This is a critical component of any treatment program for ADHD. For additional information about ADHD and treatments for ADHD, visit the Learning Breakthrough Program’s drug-free ADHD treatment page.