Childhood ADHD and Social Skills Training: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 09, 2022

If your child has ADHD, you might already know about behavior therapy. An important part of it is social skills training. Social skills are what we use to communicate and interact with each other day to day. But kids with ADHD often lag behind others in learning them.

This may make it harder for your child to interact positively with you, their siblings, teachers, or classmates. The good news is social skills training can help them grow in this area.

Most kids pick up social skills by watching people and copying their behaviors, beginning in early childhood. They’re rewarded with praise by adults and accepted by their peers when they behave in a manner considered appropriate. This motivates them to keep up with behavior.

Experts aren’t sure why, but kids with ADHD tend to find it harder to pick up these details. They may get a general sense of what’s appropriate but don’t have a big picture view. Because of this, they might struggle to make and keep friends. They don’t get many chances to work on their social skills, which further pushes people away. Children with ADHD are left to figure out how to get better in this area without truly understanding what’s wrong and how it needs to change.

It’s best to get this training in a group setting. That could be an in office clinic, a classroom, or small groups at school and summer camps. They run for 1 or 2 hours weekly for 6-12 weeks. Methods used by therapists include:

  • Coaching
  • Modeling
  • Role-playing
  • Feedback

It’s best to do social skills training while you’re in parent training, as well as when behavior interventions are being done at school. This way you and school staff can work on the same target behaviors that are being addressed in the social skills group.

Generally speaking, the most effective programs are those that help kids get along better with other kids. Look for programs where your child can work on peer problems in a classroom or recreational setting. Some summer camps offer programs for kids with ADHD that combine social skills training with academics. These are usually 6- to 8-week programs that run for 6 to 9 hours each week. Treatment is done in groups with recreational activities like baseball or soccer for most of the day, along with two hours of academics. The goal is to help children with ADHD:

  • Improve social and problem-solving skills
  • Learn the concept of teamwork
  • Lessen negative behaviors
  • Form and keep friendships

Some parents try to minimize their child’s participation in social activities. But it’s important that kids with ADHD be put in these situations so they learn how to behave. You play a big role. Things you can do to help your child’s social skills include:

Give feedback right away when possible. Don’t wait until later when you or your child may not remember exactly what happened. You can role-play with them or point out appropriate or inappropriate behavior when you read a book together or watch TV. Show them facial expressions, too.

Set small, clear specific goals. Work on areas your child struggles with, like listening or showing interest in someone else. It can be as simple as saying hello to the cashier at the grocery store.

Schedule small play dates. Keep them to just one or two friends. Large groups of kids can be overwhelming for a child with ADHD. Just make sure that the play dates are with other kids who can be role models for good social skills.

Choose short play activities. Keep them simple and easy to help with attention span and ward off overstimulation. This increases the likelihood that your child with ADHD will achieve social success.

Take a quick video of your child. Kids with ADHD may have a hard time seeing themselves as others see them. If you film them and go over it with them, it can increase self-observation and awareness.

It also helps to encourage your child with ADHD to find a best friend. Research suggests it may help kids with social difficulties as they go through childhood into the teen years. Keep in mind that you don’t just want to enroll your child with ADHD in a group activity like Scouts or Little League, or just let them play in the neighborhood alone. In order for your child to succeed, they will need parent supervision in order to help teach them social and problem-solving skills.

Show Sources


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “ADHD: Treatment.” “Relationships & Social Skills,” “Social Skills Intervention,” “Helping Children Develop Social Skills.”

Mayo Clinic: “Helping a Child with ADHD Develop Social Skills.”

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