Friends. They are so important. Children with ADHD often have difficulty creating new friendships. Friendship is a huge asset. Friends do wonders for a child’s self-confidence, emotional resilience, and general happiness.
So how do you make new friends? Practical rules and methods can help you and your child build social skills and make new friends. Let’s get started:
Talk to him
Talk with your child about the importance of keeping good company and about the behaviors that are valued by others. Do not hesitate to talk about what appears to you to be self-evident. For children with ADD/ADHD, these are not always obvious.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
Conduct simulations and teach your child about how to handle various social situations. Talk to him about the need to establish eye contact, to avoid disturbing others, to choose the right expressions. Get down to practical details, even to the level of the content of the sentences and their wording. Here is an example of how to coach your child to express himself: “Don’t say that a game is boring or stupid. Instead, why not say: ‘Can we can play something else?’ or offer another game?”
Here is another practical exercise for how to join a group: “If you see two kids talking to each other, approach them and listen in. If you are interested, you can stay. If not, move on. If you stay, how do you know if you are invited to join in? Very simple. If they want you to join the conversation, they’ll look at you. It’s a kind of invitation. If they don’t make eye contact with you, don’t stay, move on.”
Teach your child that the best response to teasing is humor. Teach him that he should not tease back but respond humorously, for example: “Geez, I’m really offended!” or “I think I get you.”
Encouragement, encouragement, encouragement
It’s not easy for your child to acquire the necessary social skills and put what you’ve taught him into practice, so be patient! Learning may be arduous and progress slow. If your child is acquiring new social skills, don’t be angry with him when he makes a mistake. On the contrary, encourage and praise him for any progress he makes, even the smallest. Do not spare kind words.
Observation for the purpose of intervention
You’ve discussed, you’ve rehearsed and you’ve practiced, great! Now it’s time to see how your child uses what he’s learned. Find an excuse to stay and watch your child play with a friend. Don’t be conspicuous and don’t try to participate in the play. Just be “at the scene” so that you can gently intervene at the right moment. Don’t worry about your child losing independence and becoming dependent on you. As he learns and gets older, gradually let him manage more on his own.
Show empathy for his feelings
If your child complains that no one likes him and that he has no friends, empathize with him but always suggest a solution. You could say: “Children with ADHD often have difficulty getting along with other children. There are all kinds of ideas that can help, would you like to hear some of them?” Chances are he does.
Let him play with younger kids. It’s okay.
Many children with ADHD tend to be slower in developing social skills than their peers, and therefore are less mature. As a result, they generally feel more comfortable playing with younger children. Children with ADHD can derive great benefit from playing with younger friends. When playing with a younger friend, your child can practice social skills without fear of being laughed at. As a bonus, the younger child is likely to look up at him with admiration, which will strengthen your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Don’t worry. Your child will not play with younger children forever. After acquiring more social skills, he’ll make friends with his peers as well.
In our school, the teacher is a partner
School is one of the main arenas for practicing social skills. It pays to be in touch with the teacher and make her a partner in the goal of expanding your child’s circle of friends. Here are two ideas:
Offer the suggestion to divide the class into groups for assignments and projects, and ask her to do the division into groups herself. Working in a group on a joint project will help your child interact with other children. At the same time, since the teacher is responsible for the division into groups, your child does not get lost in the process of selecting partners for the team.
Second, teachers can help children make friends by introducing playing breaks into the learning routine. Familiar games can help soothe the children and blur the differences between them. Games provide an opportunity for children to show strengths in areas that are otherwise not apparent in class. It is preferable to choose non-competitive social games that allow all children to participate.
If your child likes team sports, take advantage of it. Activities of this type can teach the child skills that may be applied off the field as well. Before you enroll your child in a team, talk openly and honestly with the coach or counsellor. Make sure that your child is accepted into the team and received in a friendly way. Take your child to meet the coach and other team members before the first training session. Find out whether the coach is concerned with the children enjoying the activity and pays attention to the investment of effort, or whether the activity is too competitive and achievement-oriented for your child.
Friendships begin at home
Invite a group of about four friends to your home to do something that your child likes, such as playing video games, watching a live game on television or eating pizza. If – like many other children with ADHD – your child is wary of being in a large group, invite just one or two friends.
Friendship in the family as a model
Build a stable and deep relationship with your child. Studies show that when relations at home are good, we see an immediate improvement in your child’s relations with his peers. Invest effort in building the relationship. Plan 15 minutes of quality time with your child several times each week. Do something fun together, just you and him – without criticizing and without giving any instructions.
Time for medication?
If your child’s impulsive behavior (such as interfering or jumping from one thing to another) prevents him from establishing friendships, medication may help. Together with your doctor, find the appropriate dose, taking into account the hormonal changes that occur during puberty.
With girls it is (a little) different
Everything we have said about friendships is relevant to both genders, but be aware that girls with ADHD are more likely to develop problems with social relationships. Social rejection by peers hurts girls more than it hurts boys. A girl with ADHD may have difficulty understanding the social situation and can become verbally aggressive when she feels frustrated. Try to help her start friendships by offering to take her and a girlfriend to some kind of entertainment, like to the mall or a movie. It is best to settle on one girlfriend; if you invite two, they may pair up and leave your daughter out of the picture.
No shame in learning
Sometimes the direct approach is the best. Look for a program that teaches social skills outside of school and enroll you child in it. You can also ask the guidance counselor at school to create such a group. Get input and suggestions from friends and search the Internet for quality information.
And most importantly: No pressure
Even when it looks like your child is lonely, remember: not every child is a social star, and that’s okay. Many studies show that one close and good friend is enough to build self-confidence. Most socially isolated children eventually learn to manage their behavior and build friendships. With the onset of adolescence, children tend to adjust, adapt, and find their place among friends.