Helping Your Child With ADHD Succeed at Home
How to Help a Child with ADHD Make Friends
Children with ADHD may struggle to make friends as they may have difficulty with cooperation, sharing, listening, and communicating. To help these children form lasting friendships, you can involve them in different types of social interactions. At home, you can play games and talk about the proper way to interact with people. The child may need more support from their doctors and teachers, so it is important to open a dialogue with the other adults in their life.
Encouraging Group Play
Try a team sport.If the child is energetic or aggressive, team sports may encourage them to channel their energy into an organized game. Since cooperation is vital in team sports, they will learn social skills that will help them make friends outside of the team.
- Good sports for kids with ADHD include soccer, basketball, swimming, gymnastics, tennis, and track.For example, Michael Phelps has said that swimming helped to manage his ADHD symptoms.
- Martial arts are also good for kids with ADHD because they can help a child to develop self-control and executive functioning skills.
- Good activities for kids with ADHD include those that focus on individual growth rather than team competition, offer concrete and attainable goals, include routines that are broken down into manageable chunks, emphasize self-control and concentration, can help with coordination, provide structure and clear expectations for behavior, can provide a safe outlet for excess energy, and that include an environment that is accepting and communal.
- Before you sign the child up for a sport, talk to the coach and explain the child’s ADHD to them. For example, you might say, “Mike has ADHD, and this means that he struggles with paying attention and cooperating with other kids. Is this something you could help him with?” The coach should understand that the child should not be punished for their ADHD.
Find extracurricular activities.If sports aren’t the right choice for the child, you might try some non-athletic group activities. These will still provide structure and organization for the child while giving some more room to talk and interact with other children.Some activities you might consider include:
- Choir groups
- Science club
- Group art classes
Let them pursue their interests.Ask the child what types of activities they enjoy doing. If they have a particular hobby, you might find a club that they can join to help them pursue that interest, or you may be able to find a playmate with a similar interest.
- Ask the child, "What is your favorite thing to do in your free time?"
- If the child enjoys playing video games, you might encourage them to invite a schoolmate home to play with them.
- If the child is into anime, you might encourage them to start their own anime club.
- A child who likes acting and making videos might want to recruit other children to make their own movie.
Ask them who they want to be friends with.There may be a particular schoolmate or neighbor that they would like to play more with. Ask your child if they have anyone in particular they want to be friends with, and discuss the difficulties they may have with being their friend.
- You can say, "Is there anyone at school you want to be friends with?"
- If the child expresses they have no friends, ask them, "Who do you like best in your class? Why?"
- Try to help your child realize how they could be friends with this person. For example, if they complain that no one ever invites them over to play, ask them if they would like to invite someone over to your house.
Invite a playmate over.If the child is struggling with meeting friends at school, you might try to look for a playmate elsewhere for them. Repeated exposure to a playmate may lead to a good childhood and promote a lifelong friendship. You can ask your coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family members if they know of a child who would be a good fit.
- Younger playmates may be better suited for children with ADHD than children of the same age. If you can, find a playmate who is a year or two younger than your child.
- Small groups are more beneficial for children with ADHD than larger groups. When introducing a new playmate, let them meet one on one before inviting more children.
Teaching Social Skills
Talk about challenges.If a child had a bad experience with other children, you should sit down and talk through it with them. Ask them questions to encourage them to tell you what happened, and then gently guide them towards reactions that would have worked better.
- If the child seems upset, ask them, “What happened today? Can we talk about it?” Ask them to describe the situation in detail.
- You should ask the child how they reacted to the situation. For example, you might say, “I’m sorry Sally said that to you. How did you respond to her?”
- If the child made a mistake, don’t scold them. Instead gently suggest what they could do to react more appropriately next time while maintaining a positive tone. You might say, “It sounds like you did everything you could. Maybe next time you can give Sally the ball if she asks politely.”
Role-play situations.You can coach your child by giving them social scripts and practicing these at home. You might play the role of a schoolmate. Ask your child to respond to you in the same way that they would to their schoolmate, and provide them with some pre-written responses if they are struggling.
Take turns at home.Children with ADHD often struggle with letting other people have turns talking, playing, or using something. To encourage patience and sharing, take turns when doing any activity at home. Emphasize that everyone has to wait for their turn.
- At dinner time, everyone should have three minutes to say something about their day. No one else is allowed to talk until the three minutes are over.
- After dinner, everyone should wash their own dish. They will have to wait until the person in front of them is done washing.
- Set limits for computer and TV use. Let everyone in the family have a turn picking what movie or TV show you watch.
Play cooperation games.Children with ADHD may have difficulty cooperating with other children. To encourage good group play at school, you should play short cooperation games with the child when they are at home. These are games where the child must work with you to win.
- Ask the child to describe something in the room without telling you what it is. Let them give you clues until you guess what object it is.
- A three-legged race is a great way to get them to coordinate with someone else. Tie your left leg to their right leg, and try to walk around the room. If you have another pair of people, you can try racing them.
- Twister is a good game that requires them to remain still and listen to directions. It can also encourage good communication skills.
Encourage the child to listen.Some children with ADHD may not have good listening skills, which is detrimental when they are trying to make friends. Teach your child to listen carefully to everything you say to them.
- Play a story game where you start with one sentence and the child states the next sentence. Go back and forth, each coming up with the next sentence in the story. This will require the child to listen carefully to what you are saying so that they can come up with the next sentence.
- Ask the child to repeat back what you said when talking about important subjects. If you get in the habit of this, the child will start listening so that they can repeat things back to you.
Intervene if the child is acting aggressively.If you see the child acting aggressively towards another child during play, you should intervene and let them know that it is inappropriate. Some children with ADHD may react out of frustration or they may not realize that what they did was mean.
- Aggressive behavior includes pushing, tripping, hitting, insulting, or yelling at other children.
- You can say, "Hey now, I know you're frustrated, but you shouldn't push people. Can you say you're sorry?"
Adopt a pet.Pets can teach a child responsibility, and they are a great tool for children with ADHD to practice their social skills. Talking to a dog or cat is less pressure than talking to other children, and the pet will prove to be a faithful companion even if they are struggling to make friends in school.
- A dog may also help a child to make friends by providing them with something to talk about with other kids.
Finding Support for the Child
Talk to their teacher.It is important that the child's teacher understands their social struggles. The teacher can help encourage them to interact in a healthy manner with other children.
- You might say, “John is having difficulty making friends at school because of his ADHD. I was wondering if there was anything you could do to help.”
- You might want to ask the teacher, “Have you noticed the ways that Marie interacts with other children in the classroom? What social skills do you think she needs to work on?”
- If you know the specific reason your child struggles making friends, explain it to the teacher so that the teacher can identify this problem when it occurs. For example, you might say, “I know Charlie can get pushy and bossy around other kids. We are trying to work on his cooperation skills.”
- If the child is doing group work, the teacher may be able to put them in a group with children of a similar temperament.
Put them in a social skills group.Social skills groups are often run by child therapists or psychologists to teach children important social skills. They are ideal for children with ADHD as they will help them learn to interact with other children who are also struggling to make friends.
- Ask your child's pediatrician, psychologist, or behavior therapist if they offer this program or if they can refer you to one.
Work with their counselor.If the child is seeing a counselor to help with their ADHD, make sure you talk to them about the child’s specific struggles with making friends. Not only can the counselor teach the child how to make friends, but they can help you encourage cooperation, patience, and sharing at home.
- You might tell the counselor, “I know Lisa is struggling to make friends. She often complains that the other children are mean to her. What would you recommend we do?”
Consider medication.If you have tried other options without success, you may need to consider medication. Children who cannot interact with other children may benefit from medication, which can help them pay attention to what others are saying and reduce aggression. Talk to your pediatrician or therapist.
- Medication is most effective for children when it is combined with behavioral therapy. Make sure you talk to your child’s psychologist to work out the best plan for your child.
- There are many types of medication for children with ADHD, including stimulants, non-stimulants, and antidepressants. It may take a while to find the right combination for your child.
- Some ADHD medications can cause loss of appetite, sleeplessness, emotional outbursts, stomachs, and headaches.
- It can take a while for your child to adopt healthy social skills. If they are struggling to pay attention or listen to you during these activities, try again another time.
- Start small with group activities. It is easier for kids with ADHD to handle smaller groups than large ones.
- In most cases, teenagers with ADHD do not need any extra assistance with making friends, and you may want to let them develop relationships on their own.
- If your child suffers from anxiety or depression, taking a stimulant may make it worse.
- ADHD medication is known to make people “zombie-like” or to cause hyperactivity as the dose wears off. If these side effects occur, ask your doctor to lower the child’s dosage.
Video: ADHD: What parents need to know about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
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