Making Friends and Developing Social Skills
Friendships are critical, especially for kids. Friendships help kids learn how to navigate the world around them, build mutually beneficial relationships, boost self-esteem and are catalysts for teaching countless life lessons. Skills such as collaboration, cooperation, compromising, empathy, leadership and following, problem-solving and developing a broader world view while helping kids better understand themselves-these skills are all developed through friendships.
But some kids find it difficult to make and keep friends, usually because many children aren’t born with great social skills. These need to be learned, often through trial and error, and if a kid has ADHD, developing good social skills can be particularly difficult. Hyperactivity and impulsiveness can interfere with kids trying to cooperate, take turns or compromise.
ADHD kids may have a difficult time regulating the volume of their voice or reading and being sensitive to the feelings of others or even the environment around them. This can make these children appear rude, immature or even mean to other kids and often they end up avoided and rejected by their peers.
Of course, that’s only regarding the kids with an aggressive presentation of ADHD, and children who present with the inattentive form of ADHD seem to get ignored or ridiculed. They tend to standoff outside of groups, have difficulty figuring out how to join in, meet new people, start and/or continue conversations, interact cooperatively in play and can appear disinterested and aloof at best or awkward and weird at worst.
Girls with ADHD have an even tougher time of it than boys, mostly because of the more complex social structure girls have. Plus, the aggressive for of ADHD is more problematic socially for girls, because impulsivity and acting out aren’t deemed feminine behaviors, and they do tend to be more acceptable traits for boys in moderation. These behaviors also tend to draw more attention to these girls for their awkward behavior, which leaves them more susceptible to teasing and bullying.
Acquiring friendships and developing interpersonal relationships seems to have deeper meaning for girls than it does boys, also. If girls find it difficult to develop and keep friends, it can severely impair their self-esteem and a growing lack of confidence often prevents them from trying again.
But, the good news is that social skills are indeed skills, which means that you can learn them, practice them and improve on them. Here are some tips to help girls-younger and older-get and keep friends, developing the social skills and support system that will make their lives more enjoyable and successful:
Parents and Caregivers – Be a Coach
- This is especially helpful for younger girls, help them make friends by letting them know that you’re there for them, helping at home, and will be helping them build this skill, and it is a skill.
- Practice using planned family playtime and work on sharing and taking turns. Reinforce the positive behaviors and let them know that their friends will expect the same behavior.
- Role-play conflict resolution and seize teachable opportunities at home to solve interpersonal conflict. This can be between siblings, parent/child and between peers. Reviewing scenarios and working out different ways to solve conflicts can be very helpful, especially for impulsive kids.
- Check out “social scripts,” or common conversations that parents can practice with their kids, and rehearse these conversations such as how to meet someone new, how to engage in and maintain a conversation on specific topics, how to play together and communicate through play. A pediatrician or therapist can help you choose appropriate scripts to use.
- Be a great role model. Children learn best by what they see more than what they are told. Be cautious to demonstrate good behavior and social skills yourself with family, friends, community and strangers. Be attentive, thoughtful, generous and work to solve conflicts positively and calmly.
- Preparing for a playdate can make all the difference for girls learning social skills. As a parent or caregiver you have an opportunity to proactively work with your daughter to help boost her confidence, self esteem and empower her to make improved choices and behavior to be a great host or guest for another kid.
- Discuss traits of a good host. How do you welcome your guests, make them comfortable, start conversations, and introduce your guests if you have more than one?
- Pick out games in advance with your daughter and ask her when she will decide when to move on to another game? Ask her about cooperation, taking turns and compromising to get her thinking about these skills and how they might relate to the playdate.
- Reinforce skills about reading others-how can you tell if your guests are having fun? What are they saying? Are they laughing or smiling? If yes, what about?
- Afterwards, review with your daughter how it went and focus on some of the good things she did. Say, “Good job sharing with your friend!” instead of just, “Good job.” Praise helps motivate kids, especially when it’s labeled.
- Consider making playdates with younger kids. If your daughter’s peers aren’t relating well to her, plan playdates for your daughter with younger children whom she might more easily relate to and who will likely be more forgiving towards her if her behavior still needs a little practice.
Help for Older Kids with ADHD
Organized sports are great for older kids, especially those with ADHD. It gives kids a built-in subject to talk about and structured rules to follow much of the time. Plus, physical activity can increase attentiveness and focus and help expend excess energy that may be caused by anxiety and aid in relaxation and boosting self-esteem.
So, not all kids are into sports, and that’s okay. There are many different types of structured activities such as performing arts: theater, dance, singing; scholastic clubs: math, science, foreign languages, etc.; civic clubs: 4H, Girl Scouts, etc. The purpose is to find something where your daughter can meet other kids with similar interests, doing the same activities and doing something she enjoys and is good at. Not only will this help your daughter with socialization skills, when she experiences success it will be a great boost to her self esteem and confidence that can permeate all areas of her life.