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Growing up With ADHD: Teaching Social Skills

I'm a mother of two children with ADHD from Indianapolis, Indiana. I share my experiences with the hope of helping other parents.

Learn how to improve social skills in children with ADHD to help them build solid friendships.

Learn how to improve social skills in children with ADHD to help them build solid friendships.

Growing Up with ADHD: Teaching Social Skills

Children growing up with ADHD often struggle with social skills, making it difficult for them to fit in with other children. More often than not, it's because “appropriate” behavior in social settings isn’t something that comes naturally. Teaching social skills to our children can make it easier for them to make friends. For children, having friends is an important part of a healthy and happy childhood. Also, acquiring these skills as a child will help them form successful relationships as they move into adulthood.

Growing Up with ADHD: Acceptance From Peers

When ADHD children are interacting with others, they are looking to be accepted, just like everyone else. However, during these interactions, they are often unaware of the behaviors that may be causing them to be singled out. My son has often come to me, broken-hearted, because of how he has been treated by other kids. As his mother, I am aware of his “social awkwardness,” and I know that I must constantly coach him on more acceptable ways to interact with others.

Here's My Story: Staring You in the Face

Recently, after picking my children up from school, my son came to me with watery eyes and told me that a girl told him, “Stop staring at me!” and that it hurt his feelings. Being keenly aware of his need for increased social awareness, I asked him, “Well, were you staring at her?” He replied in a sad and high-pitched voice, “Yeah.”

As much as it hurt me to be honest with my son, I told him, “You can’t stare at people. When you stare at people, it makes them feel uncomfortable and it also makes them think you’re creepy.” I’m sure my response hurt his feelings a bit more, however, I had to tell him. I’d rather point this out to him and use it as a teachable moment, than for him to continually go on unaware; paving a path for future heart-breaking interactions.

Identify and Correct Inappropriate Behavior

Teaching social skills begins with parents identifying and correcting inappropriate behavior; it will take constant coaching and reinforcement. Yes, it would be easier to just ignore and hope they will figure it out as they get older. However, raising our children to become successful adults is the duty of every parent, not just those with ADHD children.

There is no magic formula for managing these behaviors. The goal I have for my children is to help them recognize the behavior and teach them how to interact in more “appropriate” and socially acceptable ways. Here are some behaviors my children often struggle with, some of these may be familiar if your child has ADHD.

  • Invasion of Personal Space
  • Talking Loudly
  • Becoming Easily Upset
  • Interrupting Others
  • Inappropriate Responses

Use Your Time in the Car to Connect

When my son was about 7 years old, I would often get notes or phone calls because of his sometimes-aggressive interactions with a few other boys at school. At times, my son would tell me that the other child called him a name or sometimes it was just that my son became upset because he lost a game. I realized was that I needed to teach my son how to cope with these “stressors” without getting into trouble.

If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time in the car chauffeuring your children around town to school and extra activities. Why not take advantage of this time by using it to teach and reinforce social skills and coping strategies? Here’s a strategy that has worked for me.


While riding in the car with my son, I would say, “Let’s make up a story.” I would always start the story with, “Once upon a time, there was a boy (sometimes I would say girl) named…”, then I would look at him and let him name the child in the story. After he gave the child a name, I would use that name throughout our story. I would go on to say something like, “Billy was at school and this mean kid named Joey, came up to Billy and pushed him in the back.” I would then pause the story to ask a question like, “What should Billy do?” Next, I would look at my son and allow him to answer the question. Anything your child says is the right answer, even if he says something inappropriate like, “Billy should punch Joey in the stomach.” However, my guess is that your child will stop for a moment and think about something that he has been taught in the past. He might say,” Billy went to tell the teacher.”

After your child gives a response, either appropriate or inappropriate, you should add on to his part of the story. If your child gives an inappropriate answer, start your part of the story with, “Or Billy could go talk to an adult.” If their answer is appropriate, make sure to add your 2 cents, as a way to reinforce to your child that he gave the right answer and help him build confidence for the next time he is faced with a similar situation.

Don't Forget to Have Some Fun

Don’t forget to keep the story going and have some fun. Keep going back and forth with your child about how the story continues. After the “lesson” is done, the story could go anywhere! Our stories have included unicorns, space aliens, robots and teenage mutant ninja turtles!

Storytelling can be used to teach social skills and help manage many inappropriate behaviors your child might be exhibiting. In order to be effective, story-telling has to become part of your weekly routine, don’t do it just when your child gets into trouble. You don’t want story-telling to be associated with being negative. At first, you might tell stories a few times a week. However, as your child’s behavior improves, you may only do it once a month.


A Couple of Tips

Tip #1: Be honest with your child but also be compassionate and attentive to their feelings.

Tip # 2: Reward your child for their good behavior. Try to “catch them in the act” of being a great kid!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Seven Stevens