Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is associated with functional impairments in different areas of life, and one such area is social functioning. Social difficulties present in a variety of forms and can lead to conflicts with family and peers. In order to face the common issues that occur in the social life of children and adolescents with ADHD, is important to learn more about them.
How can we explain social difficulties in children with ADHD?
The core symptoms of ADHD – inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity – by their very nature, would be expected to make effective functioning with peers difficult. Whereas problems with inattention likely limit opportunities to acquire social skills through observational learning and to attend to social cues necessary for effective social interaction, hyperactive and impulsive behaviors contribute to generally unrestrained and overbearing social behavior that makes children with ADHD aversive to peers. Inattentive behaviors in social situations might impair the children’s ability to pay attention to their friends, potentially harming the reciprocity, sensitivity, conflict resolution, and commitment necessary to establish and maintain high-quality friendships.It’s important not to confuse symptoms of ADHD with selfishness and egocentrism because researchers offer an explanation of the role that social cognition plays in the peer relationship problems:
- Children with ADHD have trouble understanding a social situation from someone else’s perspective.
- Children with ADHD tend to overestimate their social competence more than typical children.
- They tend to see their peers’ ambiguous provocations as hostile and to suggest less adaptive strategies solving hypothetical social conflicts than typical children, which could have negative effects on friendship.
- Some children with ADHD may prioritize social goals such as sensation seeking and fun over compliance with rules.
What can parents do to alleviate their children’s social difficulties?
Given the aforementioned difficulties, it is necessary to consider some practical advice for parents of children with ADHD. Family influences that contribute to children’s peer-related social competence are:
- Parental fostering of the child’s peer social network
The frequency of play dates organized by parents for their children is associated with improved social skills. Parents can also teach their children how to behave in a way that promotes friendship during playdates. The friendship facilitating behaviors of parents during play dates are more strongly related to positive peer relationships for children with ADHD than for typical children.
- Parental attitudes and beliefs about their child’s social competence
Parental warmth, together with reasonable levels of control, combines to produce positive child outcomes. It’s also important for parents to deal with any negative feelings they may have, since these feelings make it more difficult for them to react appropriately and effectively to the challenges of socialization.
- Importance of peer relations and strategies to assist socialization
Parents can role-play social situations with their child and discuss some aspects of behavior and attitudes that can be modified. The child can also benefit from being a part of a sport or another group activity of interest, so they can work on team skills.
- Modeling social behavior
The quality of parents-child interactions, positive attitudes, and effective communication are important, but so is modeling social behavior. In this case, actions speak louder than words. For example, a parent saying that it’s wrong to throw things when upset but at the same time dealing with frustration in an aggressive manner doesn’t contribute positively to the child’s social skills. Parents support the development of prosocial norms by their own positive coping with frustration and distress, usage of explanations about the impact of one’s behavior on others, and through being an active source of social support. Parents who discuss social skills with their children and model good examples of social skills in their interpersonal relationships, increase the probability of their children having positive interactions with their peers. Given the importance of parental modeling, parents should also learn some useful techniques such as problem solving and goal setting.
- Soucisse M.M., Maisonneuve M., Normand S. Friendship Problems in Children with ADHD What Do We Know and What Can We Do? 2015. Perspectives on Language and Literacy.
- Classi P, Milton D, Ward S, Sarsour K, Johnston J. Social and emotional difficulties in children with ADHD and the impact on school attendance and healthcare utilization. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2012;6:33. doi: 10.1186/1753-2000-6-33.
- Hoza B. Peer Functioning in Children with ADHD. Ambul Pediatr. 2007 ; 7(1 Suppl): 101–106. doi:10.1016/j.ambp.2006.04.011.