How to Build Social Skills in Children and Teens with ADHD

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/?p=25217Children and teens with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) often have difficulty in social situations. They may frequently get into conflicts with peers, have trouble developing and sustaining friendships, or experience other social difficulties. In some instances, these difficulties may be due primarily to symptoms associated with ADHD, such as difficulty focusing, resisting impulses, or other self-regulation issues.

Difficulty focusing impedes individuals with ADHD in that they may not hear everything that is being said or otherwise communicated. As a result, they may miss social cues or relevant information to sustain conversations. In some instances, individuals may “zone out” and be perceived by peers as being uninterested. In other situations, children and teens may be focused on what they want to say and not allow peers to fully contribute to conversations and social interactions. Individuals who have trouble managing impulses to say something, trouble sitting still, or difficulty resisting other impulses often struggle in social situations because peers may find certain actions annoying or irritating.

ADHD does not always occur by itself. There are high comorbidities with anxiety, depression, learning issues, and other conditions. Thus, in some instances, symptoms from co-occurring conditions exacerbate the effect that ADHD symptoms have on social interactions.

Here are a few strategies to help your child/teen with social skills:

  • Practice good social skills and behavior at home. If your child/teen is engaging in problematic behavior (i.e., interrupting others, doing something annoying on purpose, being unfocused when having a conversation with you), have a conversation about how these types of behaviors can make it difficult at school and socially. It is best to bring it up when an issue isn’t occurring in the moment. Once you have this initial conversation, figure out a way that is amenable to your child/teen to gently point out when problematic behavior is occurring. Over time, this will help your child or teen learn to recognize when he or she is doing something he/she shouldn’t be doing, and may ultimately lead to it not happening in the first place. You have to be careful, though, that you are pointing things out in a constructive way and that your child/teen views it that way. If the child/teen feels that you are hounding him or her about things, he/she may become upset and, in time, develop negative feelings toward you. Do not embarrass your child/teen; speak privately about problematic behavior that you observe. Don’t bring things up in front of friends or siblings.
  • For certain behaviors, you could collaboratively develop a signal that you could use to convey to your child/teen that you are observing something problematic. For instance, if your child/teen chews with his or her mouth open, set up a signal where you hold up your hand and give a two-second gesture, signaling to him or her that he/she needs to chew with mouth closed. As another example, if your child/teen frequently interrupts conversations, set up a signal where you raise one finger when he or she interrupts, signaling to wait for an appropriate time to speak.
  • Model good behavior for your child/teen. If you interrupt your child/teen, use foul language, do things intentionally that are annoying, or engage in other negative behaviors, chances are your child/teen will follow your example. It makes it much harder to explain and enforce to your child/teen that such behaviors are wrong if you continue to do them yourself.

Learning and using good social skills is a process, and having a safe environment to practice is important. At the same time, it is vital that any practicing or pointing out of negative behaviors is carried out in a constructive way to avoid any negative impact on your relationship with your child/teen or his or her self-esteem. If you feel that your child/teen is struggling significantly with social skills, seeking out a therapist or counselor or social skills therapy groups can greatly help your child/teen improve on these issues.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey A. Heller, PsyD, therapist in Bethesda, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Travis

    Travis

    December 2nd, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    For me one of the most difficult pieces of this puzzle was that I had always had ADHD and that was the kid that people and other kids knew me as, the one with way too much energy and definitely not one you wanted your kid hanging around! So by the time I was a little older and it as a little more important to me to have that built in social circle it was hard to break through the barriers that had already been placed there so many years ago. I wanted it to happen and I tried all of these different things and even though my symptoms were much more manageable for me as I got older I still found it hard to make new friends at school because of the preconceived notions that others already had about me.

  • Raina

    Raina

    December 2nd, 2014 at 10:37 AM

    What I have found evident in many of these children is that they struggle because due to their disability they have no confidence.

    Many of them feel very beaten down, by their peers, sometimes their parents, and unfortunately the school systems that are supposed to do more to build them up than to tear them down.

    I find that many struggle because they are severely lacking in self esteem as well as self discipline and these two things together make it quite a challenge to trust someone else and to know what it is like to be a friend and to make new ones.

  • Fabiola Ekleberry, LPC-S, NCC

    Fabiola Ekleberry, LPC-S, NCC

    December 2nd, 2014 at 9:55 PM

    Well said. I agree. I find the same working with children and adolescents

  • jaxon

    jaxon

    December 2nd, 2014 at 3:15 PM

    Much of it has to begin at home. How they see you treat others and respond to them will be how they treat others and respond as well.

  • Dan

    Dan

    December 2nd, 2014 at 3:49 PM

    The same could be said with adults who have ADD.

  • Baron

    Baron

    December 3rd, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    A child, just like an adult, has to be given the proper tools and skills to know how to interact with others in any social setting and sadly I think that this is something that a great many people with ADD or ADHD miss out on in their young and formative years. I think that there is probably a lot of time spent by them and by others trying to control that behavior that the other important things that happen when growing up, like connecting with others and making friends, somehow becomes to much of a challenge and they fall away in the mix.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    December 24th, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for sharing your thoughts!

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