Social skills for kids with ADHD often put them at odds with their peers and impairs their ability to make and keep friends. Find out why, and what you can do.
As the parent of an ADHD child, you might wonder why your kid struggles more than others in social situations. You might have noticed that they have trouble with making friends, getting along with others and adapting to new social situations. Or, perhaps your ADHD child has no friends at all?
Unfortunately, lots of research and evidence shows that ADHD kids often have impaired social skills. And, as a results ADHD kids often face peer rejection, social conflict and social isolation. And these problems can run through all areas of his life – at school, church, the community. Apparently, ADHD kids are routinely alienated.
So, if you think your kid might be struggling socially, she probably is. And it’s not something you should brush off. It’s definitely worth a closer look.
Here are a few of the reasons why kids with ADHD have social challenges and ways that you can help.
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The Facts About Social Skills For Kids With ADHD
All available evidence suggests that kids with ADHD have some amount of trouble with making friends and keeping friends. According to researchers, more than half of kids with ADHD have no reciprocated friendships — at all.
Another study found that over 75 percent of children with ADHD who also have behavior problems had no friends in their classroom. And, kids with ADHD tend to be rejected by unfamiliar peers within hours of meeting them.
Research also shows that the quality of the friendships ADHD kids do make often leave much to be desired. They can often be largely superficial, transactional relationships that lack stability.
And, they often have relationships marred by frequent conflict and suffer from a lack of emotional closeness. Or, they may fall into the wrong crowd of kids where they are exposed to many troubling behaviors.
Consequences of Impaired Social Skills for ADHD Kids
Over the long term, ADHD kids who struggle socially experience negative consequences as they grow into adulthood. Many studies have shown that children with ADHD experience substantial peer relationship problems leading to depression, criminality, school failure, and substance abuse.
And, while social rejection and isolation is certainly most painful for the person who actually experiences it, those negative feelings and consequences can affect the whole family.
For instance, siblings can also feel hurt or embarrassed by their brother’s or sister’s social rejection or poor reputation in the school or community.
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Signs Your Kid Might Be Struggling Socially
If your kid frequently shows these behaviors, you should look for signs that these traits are impairing his ability to make and keep friends, or otherwise interfering with his peer relationships:
- Rarely or never invited to birthday parties
- Rarely or never invited to classmate sleepovers
- Seldom has playdates
- Often sits alone at lunch
- Frequently reports having no one to play with at recess
- Usually picked last in gym class
- Often the butt of teasing or gossip
- Never seems to have a consistent group of friends or playmates
- Has a revolving door of acquaintances, but no constant friends
If your kid doesn’t seem to be bothered by his lack of friends or social standing, don’t be fooled. Although these social problems may understandably hurt a lot, some kids may try to hide it because they’re embarrassed or ashamed.
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Why Do ADHD Kids Struggle With Social Skills?
There are several reasons why ADHD impacts a child’s social skills.
Some Common ADHD Behaviors
Here are some common ADHD behaviors that can often lead to poor social skills for kids:
- Interrupts conversations frequently
- Difficulty paying attention when others speak
- Sharing personal information too soon or to the wrong people (i.e., strangers)
- Going off topic frequently during conversations
- Ends conversations before they are over
- Becoming distracted during conversations
- Not noticing when others are not interested in talking
- Constantly fidgets during conversations
- Does not maintain eye contact with others
- Unable to respond to teasing appropriately
How These Behaviors Impair Social Relationships
Let’s take a closer look at how some of these behaviors can result in social struggles.
Failure To Pick Up On Social Cues
Many kids with ADHD have a hard time picking up on and reading social cues, and often don’t notice how their behavior affects other people.
Non-verbal social skills for kids are essential. If your child or adolescent has trouble picking on up things like tone of voice and facial expressions, it can be hard to connect with peers. Your daughter may not ask what is wrong when a friend is sad based on facial expressions. Instead of asking how her friend is doing, your daughter might only talk about her day.
Perhaps your son misses cues that a peer wants to end a conversation. Or, he fails to recognize facial expressions and body language clearly showing that he’s hurt someone’s feelings.
Or, your son might not understand when he is invading a peer’s personal space. He may inadvertently repel other kids by standing too close when talking.
Perhaps your child doesn’t understand the rhythms and flow that natural conversation should take. Instead, they may be too chatty and loud, constantly interrupt and cut people off, or otherwise monopolize discussions.
Trouble Following Conversations
Some ADHD traits may interfere with a child’s ability to follow a conversation. For instance, if your child is easily distracted, she may tune in and out during conversations and miss relevant information. This might cause them to misinterpret what is being said, which can make others feel like your child is rude and not listening.
Difficulty With Planning And Organization
Keeping track of things can be a real challenge for kids with ADHD. They have trouble with time management too. This characteristic can impact friendships.
An example would be a teenager with ADHD who frequently has to cancel social plans because of a lack of planning. Or forgets about them entirely. Peers may get irritated by this behavior and not want to spend time with that teen anymore.
Struggles With Handling Social Conflict
Kids with ADHD can be very impulsive and demanding. They often act out without thinking about the consequences — especially when they are angry. Does your son often say hurtful things to peers without thinking? Maybe your daughter lashes out angrily with little provocation. These examples illustrate the problems that kids with ADHD have in managing social conflict.
Problems With Self Control and Emotional Regulation
Sometimes ADHD kids can present as overly intense and demanding. They may have trouble with emotional regulation skills and appreciating the likely consequences of their actions. So, they may lash out aggressively when upset. They may have scary meltdowns that aren’t age-appropriate. Or, they may say hurtful or inappropriate things impulsively. They might be easily provoked to fighting or hurling insults.
ADHD kids often have difficulty taking turns and waiting for things. They may focus on their own needs, and attempt to control the play.
For instance, they may be the overly bossy playground dictator who expects the other kids to play what she wants to play when she wants to play it. She may have problems taking turns or be bad about sharing desirable toys. Other kids will likely find this behavior obnoxious or annoying and not want to engage at all.
Such behavior can discourage other kids from wanting to play with her. Or lead her to be excluded from others’ games.
How Can I Help My ADHD Child With Social Skills?
If your ADHD child struggles socially, you can take steps to focus on his problems with peers and address them over the long term. Even though effective social skills may not come easily to your child, know that these can be taught and learned through various types of social skills training.
You can find social skills groups or classes in your area that can help. Or, there are books for parents that provided detailed guidance on improving social skills for kids. For instance, Socially ADDept: Teaching Social Skills to Children with ADHD, LD, and Asperger’s.
In addition to learning basic social skills, it’s important that your child have opportunities to practice those skills in a constructive setting. For many ADHD kids, they already know what they are supposed to do in given situations, but when they are actually in the moment, the results can be quite different.
One of the best and most effective things that parents can do is facilitate playdates. And, even in the age of COVID-19, you can still arrange playdates that are fun, promote your kid’s social skills, and nurture friendships.
Depending on conditions in your area, you could plan outdoor play dates that don’t require close physical contact. Like riding scooters or kicking a ball. The internet hosts many great ideas for in person playdates that follow social distancing rules.
Or, you can arrange for virtual play dates through Zoom or Facetime. Obvious options for a virtual play date would be some species of video game such as Roblox. But, you could also get creative and coordinate something like charades, scavenger hunt or simultaneous board game.
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If your child has trouble making and keeping friends, or doesn’t have any friends, the first step in addressing the problem is recognizing the specific ways that ADHD could be impairing his relationships.
By identifying specific behaviors that need work, you can help your kid develop better social skills, build better relationships, and move forward in a positive direction.
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