5 Easy Ways To Help Your Child Make Friends When They Have ADHD Or Behavioral Problems

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How To Help A Child With Behavioral Disorders Like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), & ADHD Make Friends
Family, Health And Wellness

If your child has ADHD, you know how hard it can be for him to make friendships. Children who struggle with ADD — Attention Deficit Disorder — struggle to keep focused on everything from schoolwork to even meeting new friends.

Behavioral issues like this are common, so how can you help your child when they can't make friends due to ADD or ADHD?

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A child with ADHD is tired and irritated. He walks away from a playmate while the playmate is still talking. You melt into the ground and wonder why your child is so rude.

When you ask your son about the encounter, he seems to have no idea that he has been rude. He tells you, “I was done with what I had to say, so I don’t want to talk anymore.”

As a parent this makes you wonder if children with ADHD will always struggle with friendships. Some of the characteristics children with ADHD have can give the appearance of being rude and insensitive or just too much for playmates.

When feeling bored, overwhelmed, hungry, tired, or faced with self-regulating challenges, children with ADHD can unintentionally forget social guidelines and come across as uncaring and bad-mannered.

They struggle with interpreting social cues, managing emotions, and self-regulating, but with proper support, they can work to develop better social skills. As a parent you may be baffled, but you can help your child with ADHD change their social approach.

Here are 5 simple tips to help your child make friends when they struggle with ADD or ADHD and behavioral issues:

1. Teach them how to empathize or "walk in someone else's shoes"

Understanding how your behavior impacts other people and being able to consider their point of view is called “learning to walk in someone else’s shoes.”

On an ongoing basis and on the spot when the child is rude or dismissive, begin to ask your child open-ended questions that allow him to reflect on his actions and how he might make other people feel.

Ask your child questions like:

  • "How do you think other people feel when you don’t show interest?"
  • "What do you think your peers think when you're bored and abruptly stop talking?"
  • "What do you think is going on in your friend’s life?"
  • "What did you notice about her reaction to the situation?

This will help your child develop empathy and consideration, which are essential to friendship.

2. Teach your child to engage in a “polite pretend”

The ability to fake interest or happiness and to be polite even when your child is hungry, tired, or bored is what I call a "polite pretend."

RELATED: 3 Biggest Signs Your Child Has ADD/ADHD

If your child objects to performing a polite pretend, begin again by asking him some open-ended questions.

  • "What do you think your friend felt about your behavior?"
  • "How do other people feel about how you treated them?"
  • "What behavior does the situation call for?"
  • "What behavior do you mean to show other people?"

This will help your child think about his actions and why performing a polite pretend may be necessary rather than hurting other people’s feelings. Many embarrassing public incidents can be dealt with if your child knows how to present a polite pretend instead of growing bored and walking away.

3. Help your child become a social observer

Most children who struggle with social skills don’t stop to notice the important cues leading up to trouble. Build your child’s awareness by teaching your child to be a social spy.

The concept is that the child can to go into public with a mission to be a social spy where they will obtain specific social information. You will rehearse with your child ahead of time, so he learns to watch other people in a subtle, covert way and to listen without looking like he's listening.

The idea is to observe a specific behavior so they can learn crucial information about peers, such as how they dress, what they talk about at lunch, and to teach them how to observe and notice other people’s behavior, mood, and energy.

4. Teach your child how to "read the room"

In every environment, there are social guidelines and unspoken rules that govern how you behave. To present the best face to the world, you have to decipher those social guidelines by reading the room.

By helping your child become more self-aware and improve his social skills, he will become a more “clued-in” child with a greater ability to develop strong, life-long friendships.

Play a game with your child. When you're at the mall, or driving to school, start by asking him to point out examples of when he might need to read between the lines.

Ask your child to pick out two people in their family to observe, and then to report back what their facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are when they are angry, frustrated, nervous, or frightened.

5. Help them learn how to self-regulate

Help your child learn what makes him become too excited, lose control of his body, or become flooded with emotions. Start to talk to your child about triggers.

A trigger is a deep emotional reaction to something, maybe a certain situation or circumstance that knocks you off balance. Help your child learn in the moment, and have them ask themselves the following questions when they're feeling excitable:

  • "Do I feel a certain pressure about something?"
  • "Is there a particular topic that makes me experience a reaction?"

By becoming more aware of his triggers, and putting systems and supports in place, your child will be able to prevent slipping into that overly reactive state. Arm your child with calming strategies that you design with him collaboratively so he's prepared in the heat of the moment to head off any signs of losing control.

Children with ADHD often struggle with friendship, but as their parent, you can help to teach him how to overcome these challenges. By making this journey fun, you allow your child to engage with you and to learn more about navigating the social world.

RELATED: 8 Surprisingly Simple Ways To Get (And Stay!) Organized When You Have ADD

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Caroline Maguire is a mother, coach for families and author of the new book Why Will No One Play With Me? The Play Better Plan To Help Children of All Ages Make Friends and Thrive. You can follow her parenting advice and purchase the book at carolinemaguireauthor.com.