Helping kids with ADHD to make friends
The social skills of kids with ADHD are influenced by their impulsiveness, difficulty with following rules, and overemphasized reactions to any adverse situation. For this reason, it is often difficult for these kids to make friends. We are all aware that the consequences of poor interactions in kids can be very bad. Two of the consequences are the inability of the kid to master more complex forms of social skills and low self-confidence.
We need to pay special attention to the self-confidence of kids with ADHD. It can take two worrying forms. On the one hand, kids with low self-esteem often exhibit violent behavior and become aggressive towards others. In these ways, they try to get rid of negative images of themselves. On the other hand, they also can develop feelings of depression and fear, which leads them to even greater social isolation. These problems are especially pronounced in teens, which is not surprising considering that the main occupation of the teenage brain is how to be accepted by society.
Improving social skills in kids with ADHD
Improving social skills in kids includes 3 ways of dealing. First, we need to explain to them how they should behave in society, for example, how to communicate without interrupting others. Secondly, we should ask them to show appropriate behavior, firstly in a simulated situation, then in a real one. Third, we need to encourage their appropriate behavior in society.
To your kid improves his or her social skills, you should help him or her to:
- improve listening skills in contact with others
- make cooperation during play or other group activities
- learn how to resolve interpersonal conflicts constructively
- increase his/her self-confidence
- become a member of some social or sports clubs
Improving listening skills in contact with others
Kids with ADHD have difficulty concentrating on the words of others. In fact, their excessive distraction and impulsive reactions make it impossible for them to listen to what is said to them from beginning to end.
Here are the simple but effective exercises to improve their listening ability.
Take a few objects that you use every day and that produce some sound (hairdryer, mixer, …). Tell the kid to turn his/her back on the object you have chosen. Then make a sound and ask the kid to guess which object it is. If necessary, repeat the sound once more. He/she should score one point for each object he/she recognizes. At the end of the game, the kid will be able to use the points won to win a prize. You can give the kid negative points for the wrong answer later. Also, increase the number of objects gradually to promote the child’s interest.
For the next exercise, you need to choose some stories that should be interesting and simple for the kid. Read one story to the kid. The child’s task will be to listen carefully and then, at the end of your reading, repeat what he/she has remembered. The kid will get one point for each part that he/she remembers. In this case, you should increase the length of the story gradually.
These exercises should be done every day for 10 minutes. Later, the time period can be increased.
Promoting cooperation and non-aggression during play or other group activities
It is difficult for kids with ADHD to play calmly and share toys with others. Their anxiety and inability to control themselves are common causes of conflicts. But, there are various ways that can help your kid with ADHD to enjoy playing with other kids. I will describe a situation that I find simple but really effective for improving cooperation and non-aggression in the social play of kids with ADHD.
Encourage the kid to call a friend. Before his/her friend comes, emphasize to your child that you will supervise whether they are playing nicely or not. Explain to him/her that you will give a point for every his/her appropriate behavior and take away a point for inappropriate. Now, you have to control the two kids who are playing and give points according to the kid’s behavior.
You should avoid interrupting the play constantly to indicate to your kid that he/she has won or lost points. This will interrupt the play in an artificial way. Also, you will put your kid in an awkward position in relation to his/her friend. To give and take away points, use play breaks. You can also make a video of this interaction and watch it with your kid later. By watching the video, you can explain to him/her the points that he/she got. Of course, you should highlight positive behaviors while watching the video. You can single out a maximum of two negative behaviors with an explanation of how the kid should have behaved.
- When kids begin to show signs of losing control during a play, for example raising their voices, it is desirable to prevent a possible negative situation immediately by involving kids in a more peaceful activity. In this way, the upset will be reduced and then the kids will be able to play peacefully again.
- When kids start arguing about a toy, you should tell them right away not to do that. Avoid endless discussions about who is guilty and who is not. Otherwise, you could provoke mutual charges, especially from a kid with ADHD who has difficulty controlling anger and frustration. I suggest that you ask for a “time out” for a toy. What does it mean? Not paying attention to who started it first, say that the toy will be excluded from the play for a while (for example 5 or 10 minutes). After the play expires, the toy will be returned only on the condition that the kids understand that they need to share it. Otherwise, a time-out for the toy will be requested again, but this time for a much longer period.
Promoting constructive conflict resolution
When kids with ADHD have a problem, they often react without thinking about what is best at a given moment. Their impulsivity is the reason for that. Therefore they often react very aggressively in quarrels instead of figuring out how to resolve them constructively. Actually, they don’t have the ability to solve problems. But, we can help kids to overcome that shortcoming.
When a kid has a problem, first, we need to find out what the real cause of the problem is through conversation with the kid. Then, we should talk with him/her about solutions and possible consequences for each solution. After that, we choose the solution that works best. So, we actually need to teach the kid that there are several solutions to each problem and that each solution has some consequence. Of course, such learning cannot give the results immediately. But, if we practice it calmly and patiently, we will see the results after some time for sure.
Increasing a kid’s self-confidence
We have already mentioned that constant failure affects a kid’s self-confidence negatively. Then, low self-confident causes difficulties in kids to make friends. I suggest the following ways to increase the self-confidence of a kid with ADHD:
- highlighting the positive qualities of the kid, for example, some of his/her talents, without limiting only to mistakes
- encouraging positive behavior with praise
- involving the kid in activities related to sports, play, school, etc. in which he/she will be able to examine his/her performance.
- For kids with ADHD, you should choose activities in small groups, under the constant supervision of an adult (coach, instructor, …).
- Activities that involve too complex rules are not recommended.
- You should avoid competitive activities, which can cause anxiety and frustration in the kid in case of defeat.
At the end
With this article about the social skills of kids with ADHD, I primarily wanted to encourage parents to believe that their kids with ADHD can have friendships like any other kid. It is a fact that each of us has shortcomings but also virtues and each of us, as such an imperfect being, finds closest friends at the end. Believe in your kid’s abilities and they will believe in themselves and others later.
After all, the social success of a child with ADHD doesn’t depend only on them. Therefore, we should not blame them for every failure in social interaction. In fact, as we need to teach kids with special needs how to behave with other kids, we also need to teach other kids how to behave with them.