Social Skill Difficulties and ADHD: Examining the Link

bored young girlChildren struggle with social skills for a variety of reasons. Many parents jump to conclusions about social difficulties being related to autism or what used to be known as Asperger’s, often overlooking attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD).

Children with ADHD have difficulty sustaining attention, managing impulses, sitting still, and other issues. These impairments have the potential to negatively affect children’s peer relationships. More specifically, children with ADHD may struggle with social skills in the following ways:

  • Trouble maintaining focus on what is occurring, which can lead to responding inappropriately in situations
  • Impulsivity, causing a child to act quickly without thinking or to say things that shouldn’t be said
  • Difficulty sitting still and excessive fidgeting can be difficult for other children to cope with
  • Doing things that annoy other children without being aware of it (singing to themselves, tapping the desk, shaking a leg, etc.)
  • Difficulty regulating emotions can lead to angry outbursts, excessive frustration, and other behaviors that could impede social relationships

It is helpful to properly treat ADHD symptoms from a young age. Doing so will provide children with practical tools that they can use to better maintain focus, reduce impulsivity, and better manage behavior in social situations.

Medication can be useful in addressing certain symptoms that impede social functioning. However, medication alone usually will not fully treat symptoms, especially those related to social skill difficulties. Thus, behavioral treatment is crucial.

In addition to behavioral treatment (such as individual therapy), here are some strategies that parents can use to help a child with social skills:

Put your child in activities where they are likely to be successful.

  • Many children with ADHD thrive in activities that allow them to be active, such as playing on a sports team. However, picking the right sport is important since some sports may not feature enough stimulation to keep a child adequately focused. You do need to monitor how your child interacts with other children while playing and on the sidelines. In some cases, children need assistance managing behavior.

Model appropriate social behavior at home.

  • If your child is behaving in a manner that is inappropriate, determine a good way to address the issue. This is especially useful when the interaction involves siblings because it provides your child with a safe environment to practice good social skills.
  • When inappropriate behavior is occurring, if it is feasible to address it in the moment, privately, without embarrassing your child, pull the child aside and explore what is going on. If you can ask a few questions about what the child is doing and get the child to become aware that his or her behavior is not appropriate (without explicitly stating that the behavior is problematic), this can be helpful over time in changing behavior.
  • It is important not to yell or speak harshly to the child about his or her negative behavior. While doing so does bring attention to it, children over time tend to internalize being reprimanded, which can lead to increased social anxiety, anxiety in general, depression, and other issues.
  • Try to work collaboratively with the child when inappropriate social behaviors are occurring. Discuss what occurred and see if you both can determine ways to prevent similar behavior from occurring in the same situations in the future.
  • Do not bring inappropriate social behavior to your child’s attention in front of other children. This can lead to embarrassment, and peers may become more aware of your child’s social deficits. This can lead to your child being teased or rejected. If you need to address a situation in the moment, take the child aside and talk privately.

Regardless of the cause, social skill difficulties can have significant short- and long-term effects if not treated appropriately.

© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

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

  • Leave a Comment
  • Clarissa

    April 3rd, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    Why is it that too many parents don’t look at their kids and look for ways for them to be a success? I mean, they are so busy wanting them to keep up with so and so doing who knows what they don’t pay enough attention to what makes their kids happy and what kinds of things would help them to be a success. I think that this is important for any child but especially important for a child with ADHD who already will tend to feel alone and isolated so will need ways to be integrated with their classmates and find ways to feel good about who they are and the things that they can shine at. Sorry, but I think that too many times the parents are looking to live vicariously through the children and this does nothing to help anyone.

  • chuck

    April 4th, 2014 at 3:34 AM

    I see lots of kids who are expected to be perfect at school and then who get to be little monsters at home. Why? Because the teachers can handle them and the parents don’t want to have to have anything to do with that? Come on, in essence this is the parents job to teach the kids how to behave, and in reality this is what should carry over for the classroom setting and the school environment. If you want them to behave a certain way when they are away from home then you have to show them how you expect for that to happen while they are actually there.

  • Eddie R

    April 4th, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    I definitely think that when you can address the behavior the minute that it is happening you stand a far better chance of working through it than you ever will if you try to address it hours after something is happened. With a child, and even many adults, bringing something up a long time after it has happened has no meaning for them. By then they may have even forgotten already what they could have done that was wrong! Addressing the behavior right at that moment but in a way that does not embarass the child is the best way to get their attention, get your point across, and work with him or her on a solution that will offer him a better choice for the nest time.

  • dane

    April 5th, 2014 at 5:35 AM

    There is a little girl in one of my daughter’s classes that drives her crazy with incessant humming that she seems unaware of even doing. Could ADHD be what is going on with her. And if so how would I even talk to the parent/teacher about this because it really is disrupting my own child’s ability to concentrate in class.

  • Joanie H

    April 7th, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    Very much a challenge because how do you teach kids that they are all the same and yet it does not take them that long to figure out that this is not really the case, that we all have our own unique qualities, some of which are valued and prized more than others?

  • Aiden

    April 7th, 2014 at 3:47 PM

    The parents of these kids, well they do have a lot of challenges but I see the way some of them treat the kids and I think that I would probably act out too.
    they are so busy yelling at them and belittling them but they seem to never find anything that is good about what the kids are doing. Is your child such a disappointment to you just because of this diagnosis that you can never find the way to say a kind word to them… ever?
    A kid needs love and attention for positive things too not just the things that he or she is doing wrong but if you can’t give this to them then I think that eventually they will think that you have given up on them so that they will then give up on themselves/.

  • olivia

    April 8th, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    You know what I think would be so nice? Instead of always hearing about the ways that kids with ADHD should have to conform to meet the standards of how we think kids should behave, if there were settings that instead could conform to their needs and what drove them to perform and learn. Educational opportunities that did not require them to sit still or be quiet all day. Chances for them to get up and move when they felt like this could help. Just a totally different learning environment than what could wirk for the majority of kids but is currentlt failing the children with certain behavioral and learning challenges. Wouldn’t that be nice?

  • Courtland

    April 10th, 2014 at 3:04 PM

    Until you have lived with ADHD on a daily basis year in and year out you have no clue as to how distracting daily life can be for you. I am constantly feeling pulled this way and that not knowing which way to turn becasue seriously I have a very hard time focusing one thing at a time. Instead of hyper focusing on one thing I am intent on everything. Can you imagine how tiresome that can be? Very. this is not something to take lightly and I guess over the years while I have become accustomed to the fact that this is who I am I know that there are people who have left me behind because it can be, well, tiresome again just being around me and I know that. I take a couple of different meds and they do help but I still have to really concentrate to focus on one thing at a time as I am easilt distracted and taken away from the task at hand.

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    April 21st, 2014 at 9:52 AM

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

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