7 Ways to Socialize with Your Child with ADHD

Cathi Cohen Some children can’t learn social skills on their own – they need help. Your involvement as a parent can make a significant difference in helping your child learn new skills and use them in a variety of settings. You already help your child to develop social skills by modeling good social skills yourself and by creating situations in which your child can practice. For example, when you invite children over to play or get your child involved in extracurricular activities, you are helping him or her build social skills.

As a parent of a child affected by ADHD, you can be your child’s “social coach” in order to address the social challenges highlighted above. Here are some techniques and strategies to help raise your child’s social IQ:

Talk to your child about the value of social skills. During a quiet time of the day, discuss with your child the importance of making friends and getting along with others. An ideal time is when your child is complaining to you about a social incident with another child. Tell your child you are going to try to help him or her learn the skills needed to be “an even better friend than he or she already is.” 

Before you go any further, think about what issues you think are most important, and allow your child to set his/her priorities.

Set a social goal with your child. It’s important to be as specific as possible when setting a goal, and to set only one goal at a time. The goal must be something your child sees as important. For example, Brendan’s mom and dad may want him to stop interrupting others during conversations, but if he doesn’t agree or doesn’t feel able to meet the goal, he will not succeed. If Brendan agrees, his goal might read: “Brendan will interrupt in conversation fifty percent less this week than last week.” (Note: Before you can set an attainable goal, you need to know your child’s current level of functioning. You’ll need at least a week to observe your child at the same time each day before you can set a realistic goal for improvement.)

Carefully arrange a supervised, time-limited date for your child to spend with other children to practice newly learned social skills. Many children with ADHD may be unable to spend hours playing with another child. It’s too much time to negotiate the complicated interactions of play. Instead, set up a play date that is limited in length. Make sure the date ends on a positive note whenever possible. Children tend to remember more vividly the last fifteen minutes of an interaction.

Review social goals with your child prior to social outings. For instance, “Tell me, Taylor, what are you going to do when you first get to the birthday party?” “Well, Dad, I’m going to walk over to where the other kids are playing and try to go with their flow.” “That’s right, Taylor, you’ve got it!”

Choose play activities that are intrinsically simple and enticing. Keep activities easy in terms of attention span and stimulation. Ask a friend to a highly attractive event like ice-skating or a trip to the movies. These occasions minimize the need for intense social interaction, and thus increase the likelihood of social success for your child with ADHD.

Involve your child’s teachers and guidance counselors in helping to reinforce social goals. For example, Brendan’s teacher could use check-off sheets to give his parents daily feedback on his progress on his goal of decreasing his interruptions in class. This encourages accountability and consistency for Brendan.

Prompt your child to think about the feelings and reactions of others.  Ask your child to think about the needs of others. Help your child understand the motivations and feelings of others by observing out loud what others’ faces and bodies are telling us. For instance, you might say, “How do you think the other girls feel when you only want to play what you want to play, Taylor?” “How do you think the girls feel when you taunt them at recess, Brendan?”

With concerted effort and diligent practice, children with ADHD can learn social skills and raise their social IQs. When children have good social skills, they get along better with their peers, develop positive self-esteem, and are more likely to experience both social and professional success as adults.

So, are you ready to be your child’s “social coach”? You might want to look for some opportunities to get started during the Winter Holiday break. There is no better time than when the pressure of school is off, and there is joy in the air!

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