Friendships are an important part of growing up. They help kids learn to work in a group, solve problems and be interested in other people. They even help kids get a better understanding of who they are as individuals.
But social skills don't come naturally to all children. Making friends can be particularly difficult for girls with ADHD.
Hyperactive and impulsive girls sometimes have trouble taking turns or not getting their way. They might be too loud and aggressive, or just seem immature to other girls their age. All these things make them more likely to face rejection from their peers.
On the other hand, girls with the inattentive form of ADHD are more likely to be ignored. They might act flighty, miss out on social cues or just not know how to join a group. During recess or a play date, inattentive kids are more likely to hover outside of the group.
Girls tend to care a lot more about friendship than their male peers, so when friendship is a problem, their sense of self-worth can take a real hit. The good news is that there are things you can do to help. Here are tips and strategies to boost social skills for younger girls and older ones, too.
Do some coaching
For younger children who are having trouble making friends, the first thing to try is some coaching at home.
- During family playtime, emphasize taking turns and sharing. Explain that friends will expect the same good behavior.
- Practicing different ways to settle conflict can also be very helpful, especially for more impulsive children. Role-playing is a great way to do this.
- For girls who need extra help with social skills, use "social scripts," or simple everyday conversations, that kids can practice with their parents. Work with your pediatrician or a therapist to pick appropriate scripts and then rehearse them with your child.
- Remember that parents are role models! Always demonstrate good social behavior yourself when talking to family members and your own friends. Pay attention to others, be generous and try to solve conflicts calmly.
Practice during play dates
"When it comes to helping with social issues, one of the best things parents can do is set up what we call structured play dates," says clinical psychologist Mary Rooney, PhD. Before a play date starts, Dr. Rooney suggests doing a little prep work together:
- Talk about what it means to be a good host. What will your daughter do to make her guests feel comfortable?
- Have your daughter pick out a few games in advance. How will she know when it's time to move on to the next game?
- Ask your child how she will know if her guests are having a good time. Are they smiling? Laughing?
Afterwards, review with your daughter how it went and focus on some of the good things she did. Say, "Good job sharing with your friend!" instead of just, "Good job." Praise helps motivate kids, especially when it's labeled.
Arrange play dates with younger kids
Girls who have trouble getting along with their peers might have an easier time with younger children. Your daughter might feel less pressured around them, and it's true that she'll be practicing her social skills on a likely more forgiving crowd.
Making friends with younger children can also help build confidence and self-esteem. It's important to keep working on developing age-appropriate social skills, but if a younger set is a better fit for now, that's fine, too. It's important for children to build up positive friendship experiences wherever they can get them.
Talk to the teacher
If your child has been having a hard time making friends, another thing you might want to do is set up a meeting with her teacher. The teacher will have observed how she interacts with her peers, and might be able to point out behaviors that other kids might find annoying. The teacher might also be able to recommend classmates who would be a good candidate for play dates, or pair your daughter up with good partners for group projects.
Help for older kids
Organized sports are great for building friendships. Dr. Rooney notes that sports are particularly good for kids with ADHD because "physical activity can help with attention and focus."
Of course, not all kids like sports, so try to find any kind of structured extracurricular activity. Things like theater, choir or science clubs can be excellent. The goal is to find something your daughter likes and is good at. This will help her spend time with other kids who share her interests. It should provide a big confidence boost, too.
Keep making those play dates
Some kids need some help even after they've found an activity to join. If your daughter is having trouble fitting in, try to identify a few children in the group that your daughter might get along better with. Then, arrange some play dates outside of the activity. Try to keep them short and structured, recommends Dr. Rooney. Bowling would be perfect.
Finally, if your child takes medication for ADHD, it might help to make sure play dates and activities are scheduled for times when her medication is still in effect. It can be hard for kids with ADHD to do things like play games, follow rules, change activities and listen to others without their medication.
Making friends and maintaining relationships can be hard work—for you as well as your child. But showing your daughter that friendship is important, and helping her along the way, can give her a real boost.
Originally published on February 29, 2016
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