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Help Your ADHD Child Make Friends


Updated June 23, 2009

Help Your ADHD Child Make Friends

Parents can help their child improve relationships by coaching and modeling positive ways to interact with peers.

Photo © Microsoft

Help Your ADHD Child Make Friends

Peer relationships can be a real challenge for children with ADHD. As a parent it can be quite heartbreaking to see your child struggle with failed friendships or no friendships at all. For the child it is an isolating experience that can impact feelings of worth and self esteem.

Why Are Peer Relationships So Difficult for Children with ADHD?

Dr. Linda Sonna, psychologist and author of The Parent’s Guide to Children with ADD/ADHD explains that the ADHD behaviors can be very off-putting to peers. The distractibility, difficulties staying on task, interrupting, loudness, fidgeting, poor spatial boundaries, and overall hyperactive behaviors tend to create problems.

These same behaviors can make it difficult for hyperactive children to function as part of a team. “On the baseball field, they may become distracted and not notice when a fly ball is heading their way. Or they may impulsively leave their position to try to catch a ball that is headed straight for a teammate. They may not know or follow the unspoken social rules when playing one-on-one games, either. In Monopoly, they may forget when it’s their turn or worse: leave the game to do something else altogether. When playing a video game, they may impulsively grab the controls when it is someone else’s turn,” explains Dr. Sonna. “Like adults, children are likely to feel personally offended or even outraged when confronted with behavior they consider inconsiderate, offensive, or that breaks the rules.”

Are There Ways That Parents Can Help Their Child Build Social Skills?

“Friendships with children a year or two younger can be a boon to a hyperactive child, as everyone is likely to function at a similar social level,” says Dr. Sonna. “Because younger children tend to look up to older ones, your hyperactive child may get a much needed boost to his self-esteem and be given more opportunities to practice leadership skills.”

Parents can also coach their child in positive ways to interact with peers. General admonishments to “Be nice” lack specificity and negative instructions such as, “Don’t interrupt” don’t tell children how to handle social situations. Before your child heads off to the playground, walk him or her through the steps for meeting new peers. Practice these steps through fun role plays at home.

Dr. Sonna provides an example:

“For instance, suggest that he hover near a group to find out what they are doing and decide whether he might like to join in before he approaches them. Then he should wait for a break in their conversation or game to ask, ‘Can I play, too?’ If the answer is ‘No,’ instruct him to use a face-saving line such as, ‘OK. If you change your mind, let me know,’ or ‘OK, maybe later.’”

“If he is allowed to play, stress that because he is the newcomer, he must do what the group wants to do and follow their rules. He should only offer suggestions if specifically asked or after asking, ‘Can I make a suggestion?’ and being granted permission. Otherwise, the kids are likely to decide he is too pushy or bossy and decide they don’t want him to join in. If things go well and he runs into the same kids on subsequent trips to the park, he may be able to give suggestions and opinions like an equal.”

Are There Ways Teachers Can Help the Child Improve Peer Interactions?

It is often helpful for teachers to appoint a mentor – a peer who is willing to help a hyperactive child learn and follow the classroom and/or social rules. Instruct the peer to put her fingers to her lips to remind a hyperactive classmate not to interrupt, to point to her arm to remind her classmate to raise her hand before speaking, to issue reminders that her hyperactive friend needs to wait for her turn at the water cooler and to apologize if she bumps into someone on the playground.

This mentor can make a real difference in the day of an ADHD child. Spend some time educating the mentor about the behaviors associated with ADHD and reflect upon the difficulties and stressful feelings these behaviors can create for a child just trying to get through the school day.


Linda Sonna, Ph.D. Personal interview/correspondence. 02 April, 08.

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