Having healthy friendships is an important part of developing lifelong social skills. For many children, these bonds build naturally and are lasting.
Unfortunately, a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) often has difficulty making and keeping friends. Understanding how your ADHD child’s brain works will show you how to help your ADHD child make and keep friends.
Why Making Friends is Hard for Kids with ADHD
There are many reasons why making friends is hard for kids with ADHD. One of the biggest obstacles that ADHD children face in making friends is their inability to read social cues.
Your child may have a hard time taking turns in conversations or could be emotionally immature in comparison to the other children. These obstacles can be frustrating to a child with ADHD.
Ultimately, this frustration can lead to your child lashing out either physically or verbally. While our first reaction as parents might be to address the negative behavior, in reality, we should be identifying the frustration that led to the rude behavior.
How to Help your ADHD Child Make Friends
If all of this sounds familiar, you may be wondering how to help your ADHD child make friends. There is no magical solution, but focusing on mindfulness in social situations will help your child feel more comfortable interacting with other children.
1. Help Your ADHD Child Overcome Poor Impulse Control
Children with ADHD have poor impulse control. Your child may interrupt his friends or may seem unable to follow the flow of a conversation. This behavior will often frustrate your child’s friends, leading to an inability to make and keep friends.
Overcoming this social challenge will take time, but with practice, your child can learn to interact mindfully. Practicing yoga or mediation for older children can teach them to consider the actions they could take and choose the best response. For younger children, sitting still may not be possible, so make mindfulness a game.
Whenever your child is asked to make a decision, ask him to stop and think about his options. Then, ask him to consider what choice would lead to a positive response. Practicing this at home will help your child to use these skills with his friends.
2. Help Your ADHD Child to Stop Hitting
Your ADHD child’s lack of impulse control most likely impacts more than just conversations. Often, your child may hit other children when he becomes frustrated or angry. To help your ADHD child to stop hitting, it is important to consider why this happens.
Most likely, something has happened that your child wants to stop: a friend takes his toy, or someone called him a name. Your first response to your child’s behavior is most likely focused on the action of hitting another child, but with ADHD children, it is important to focus on why the behavior happened. This will help to prevent hitting from happening again.
As a parent, you should always try to demonstrate how to cope with anger and frustration. If you ever negatively express anger to your partner or child, apologize.
Your child will mirror your cues in his interactions. Teach your child to leave the confrontation. Take a walk to calm down. Children with ADHD often act on their frustration, so teach your child to use this impulse to run or do jumping jacks until he calms down.
3. Help Your ADHD Child to Stop Saying Rude Things
Parenting an ADHD child is challenging. We can understand much of their behavior, but when they say rude or hurtful things, our children can easily be labeled as mean or bullies. Fortunately, you can help your child stop saying rude things by teaching him empathy.
When your child says something rude, responding with anger will escalate the situation. Instead, tell your child how that rude comment made you feel. This will help your child to learn how his words can impact others and will teach him to be mindful and empathetic to others.
When your child says something rude to his friends, you can use this same strategy to discuss what your child said to help mend the friendships that his rude behavior can harm. The most important thing to remember is that all of these strategies will take time, patience, and practice.
How to Help Your ADHD Child Keep Friends
The best way to help any child keep friends is to schedule playdates often. Even when your child begins school, having interactions with their close friends outside of school will help to reinforce friendships and build socialization skills. Scheduling playdates can help your ADHD child keep friends because you can create a safe environment for your child to practice positive interactions.
1. Help Your ADHD Child to Resolve Conflict
With any friendship, your child is bound to have conflicts, but children with ADHD often have more conflict because of their impulsive behavior. To help your ADHD child to resolve conflict you can talk through how his actions hurt his friend.
Ask your child how he would feel if his friend said or did what he did. Then, ask your child what he would want his friend to do to apologize. Then, your child can say these things to his friend, resolve the conflict and mend his friendship.
2. Help Your ADHD Child to Avoid Future Conflict
Helping your ADHD child to avoid future conflict will take time. Remind your child and yourself to never stop trying to improve. As a parent, you should look at each conflict as an opportunity to practice resolution skills. Your child will see your positive attitude and will feel more confident.
Continue to practice stop and think skills at home. This will help turn these practices into automatic responses. With time, your child will impulsively stop, think, and respond rather than reacting.
3. Help Your ADHD Child to Avoid Triggering Situations
One of the best ways to help your child to keep friends is to help your ADHD child to avoid triggering situations. As you begin to build your child’s impulse control and social skills, you should help your child avoid environments that might cause conflict.
For example, your child should avoid situations like rough-housing that might occur on the playground or at birthday parties. While this will limit situations for conflict to occur, your child should not be forced to sit out of these activities forever.
As your child builds his impulse control, have him use his stop and think skills to evaluate situations that might lead to a physical conflict.
As your child feels more confident, he will be able to consider his emotional state and the potential for a negative interaction. Ultimately, your child will learn when a situation might create conflict, and he will learn to walk before he feels out of control.
Tips for a Successful Playdate
The best plan for a playdate is to invite a friend who your child is close to. Find common ground and try to focus the playdate on this shared interest. You should proactively filter the options for activities to avoid high energy or physical activities that might result in physical contact. For example, avoid playing touch football if you know your child has a hard time keeping his hands to himself.
You can prepare your child for the playdate by following specific rules for playdates:
● The guest gets to decide – Teach your child that when a friend is welcomed into the house, your child is the host, and his friend is the guest. While your child is welcome to suggest activities, the guest is allowed to have the final say.
● Be accepting of the guest – Remind your child not to criticize if he does not like how his friend is doing something because everyone has his or her own way of doing things.
● Be kind to the guest – If you invite a friend over, do not be tempted to invite more than one friend. Remember that just because your child is friends with many children, your guest might not have the same friends. This could create conflict between your guests, and your child may not be able to cope with this unexpected dynamic.
● Don’t hover but be ready to intervene – Trust that your child will use the skills you have been building. The best way to reinforce these skills is to encourage him to use them. It is important to stay close by, in another room, where you can monitor how your child responds to potential conflict.
With each playdate, remember that there will be times where disagreements occur. The goal is not to avoid disagreement entirely but to help your child have a constructive interaction that leads to a compromise.
How to Explain Your ADHD Child’s Behavior to Other Parents
Sometimes, the hardest part of parenting an ADHD child is how to explain your ADHD child’s behavior to other parents. With every instance that your ADHD child has hit or said rude things to his friends, you have likely had to discuss the event with his friends’ parents.
Many times, your child will lose friends because other parents do not want their children to interact with your child. This is painful for your child, but this is likely just as painful for you. This continual cycle of making and losing friends can make you feel just as lonely as your child.
To break this cycle, here are some tips to explain ADHD behaviors to other parents:
● Don’t wait for a conflict – Be proactive and talk to the parents of your child’s friend. Explaining why your child behaves the way he does and discussing how you address this behavior will help other parents understand how your child processes and expresses his emotions. This conversation can help to create allies in other parents.
● Be active in resolving the conflict – If a conflict occurs, be present and observe how your child responds. Be prepared to step in to avoid escalation. Take your child aside and discuss the behavior in private. Praise the things he did well and discuss how he could improve in the future.
● Reach out after a conflict – When the parent arrives to pick up their child, address the conflict, so it is clear it was resolved. Discuss what measures you took to discuss the conflict with your child. Most importantly, listen to the other parent and understand that their concerns are aimed to protect their child's well-being and should not be taken personally.
Remember that sometimes the problem cannot be solved. Even if you do everything “right,” the other parents might still avoid future playdates. This is a painful reality of parenting an ADHD child. When this happens, it is important to talk to your child, so he does not get discouraged.
With Practice Your ADHD Child Can Make and Keep Friends
The important thing to remember about childhood friendships is that kids are fickle. Friendships come and go from one school year to the next. You may find that even after your child builds his social skills, he may not have the same friends for all of his childhood.
Whenever possible, talk to your child about his friendships. Reflect on playdates and ask your child if he enjoyed the playdate, what he would change, or if he would like to have the friend over again. These discussions will make your child feel in control and can build self-awareness.
As you continue to have playdates, monitor how your child behaves. You may be tempted to let your child go to someone else’s home, but do not rush this. It is important that your child has multiple playdates without conflict before sending him to someone else’s house for a playdate.
Explore Revibe Technologies for more tips and strategies to teach your ADHD child to make and keep friends. We can help your child build impulse control and learn social cues.