ADHD Kids Need Friends, and Friends Don’t Come Easy
Many parents worry about their kids’ friendships, but for kids with ADHD, friends can be more difficult to make and even more important to have. Relationships of all kinds requires numerous complex and intertwining skills that come naturally through childhood development for most, but some of these skills are especially difficult if not completely absent from kids dealing with ADHD such as communication, listening, sharing, empathy, remembering, attentiveness, etc.
Social cues are particularly difficult for kids with ADHD to pick up on, and because their attention is distracted, they miss important information when interacting with others such as recognizing others’ emotions, acknowledging others’ boundaries and can respond inappropriately due to a lack of impulse control like blurting out an observation or insult that can be hurtful.
ADHD kids can easily be mislabeled as mean or bullies because of their awkward behavior and poor social skills or can often be victimized or at least isolated by others because of a tendency to be withdrawn, fearful and awkward in social groups. Either way, making friendships can be really tough.
For younger children, this awkwardness may be easier to mask as all children are building and navigating their social skills and circles with varying degrees of success. Also, often there is an adult nearby to help facilitate relations – parents during a play date or a teacher nearby to help redirect any inappropriate interactions can be saviors in helping kids better relate. As kids grow older and experience more autonomy in their social interactions the gaps in awkwardness become more apparent, and in teenage years these gaps can seem insurmountable to overcome.
While there is some caution in overprotecting and coddling your child, parents provide the best models for skill-building in relationships for all youths. Studies have shown that children, particularly children with ADHD, who have strong relationships with their parents and open communication and dialogue have stronger relationships with their peers.
- Help your child start conversations with peers: Talk to your child about how to open conversations with kids at school or child who lives in the neighborhood. Suggest topics of conversation and activities that they can do together. Role play to help your child feel comfortable with the dialogue.
- Supervise nearby: This could mean supervising play from a window or taking your child to go visit another friend and staying nearby to help with any awkward situations if they arise or to at least supervise attentively enough to discuss ways to strengthen relationship skills following the interaction.
- Participate in parents’ workshops: Seek out guidance and tips on how to better help facilitate relationships for your child. Not only are there expert professionals who can assist, peers—parents who have gone through or who are currently experiencing similar issues may have invaluable advice to offer.
- Communicate with your child’s therapist: Expressing your concerns, observations and seeking advice from the therapist who is currently working with your child can greatly benefit you in implementing effective strategies, assist the therapist in tailoring a stronger treatment plan and most importantly help your child address relationship skills that he or she may have difficulty expressing.
- Joining groups and teams: Especially for older kids and teens, joining youth groups, sports teams and other structured youth activities can really help build social skills. The rules and structured time associated with these activities can help youth who may have difficulty with understanding boundaries or how to relate to others because these activities are so prescribed. At first, it may be very important to be present whenever appropriate to help facilitate discussions on any difficulties after the fact, and do be certain to communicate as appropriate with adult supervisors of the activity so that he or she understands any difficulties that may arise and can better respond to situations as need warrants.
Friendships are extremely important to help kids who already feel different and maybe even a little weird feel like they belong and are accepted by some peers. Encouraging relationships, even if mistakes are made, and reinforcing open communication to help learn coping skills and more appropriate means of interaction are keys to help youths with ADHD develop needed support systems and feel connected to the world around them.