ADHD Social Skills To Help Your Child

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated April 11, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many children with ADHD have difficulties managing their behaviors, which can make learning social skills a challenge, especially when they are beginning in a new environment like a classroom. Read on to learn about the social skills that could help your child with ADHD in school.

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Does your child with ADHD have difficulties with social behavior?

What is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

According to the mental health experts at the American Psychological Association, ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder involving inattention, impulsivity, and in some patients, hyperactivity. ADHD is typically diagnosed during childhood, but symptoms can linger through adulthood for many people. 

Children and adults living with ADHD often experience difficulties with organization, focus, developing realistic plans, considering the consequences of actions, sitting still or being quiet, adapting to shifting circumstances, self-control, aggression, and social competence.

ADHD has three major subtypes:

  • Predominantly Inattentive: Symptoms center on inattention
  • Predominantly Hyperactive/Impulsive: Symptoms center on hyperactivity and impulsivity
  • Combined: Symptoms involve inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity

As with many disorders involving the brain, ADHD symptoms and social functioning can present differently for each person, particularly within the individual subtype. Researchers at John Hopkins Medicine said ADHD hyperactivity symptoms are nearly always displayed by age seven and often much younger. However, other symptoms, such as trouble focusing, may not be evident until they are old enough for school. 

How ADHD can affect social behavior and skills

Children with ADHD often demonstrate impulsive behavior, are excessively talkative, and have trouble sitting still or being quiet if they’re hyperactive or inattentive and “in their own world” if they aren’t. Conflict-seeking behaviors common to the ADHD experience can create various challenges and make keeping friends difficult in different social situations, such as school. 

Common ADHD behavior triggers include

  • Resistance to changing activities, like putting down the phone to do schoolwork
  • Environmental overstimulation
  • Boredom
  • Unhealthy sleep patterns
  • Stress
  • Adverse reaction to food, allergens, or additives
  • Avoidance of undesired tasks
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Treatments

As with many mental health conditions, the primary treatment methods for ADHD involve psychotherapy (talk therapy), behavior modification, and medication. However, it can also be beneficial to learn strategies to improve a person’s social skills among friends, family, peers, and co-workers. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend medication for children under six. 

Psychotherapy

Talk therapy treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help kids with ADHD recognize and understand their emotions. The therapeutic process can help with identifying unhealthy thought patterns, understanding the root of those feelings, and shifting to healthier habits in a safe setting. CBT helps people examine the relationship between how they think and how they feel. Therapy can also teach practical coping skills, communication techniques, and real life social skills to help make symptoms easier to manage for your child. 

Behavior modification

Behavioral modification training teaches parents practical, effective ways to connect with their children and guide them while modeling appropriate, acceptable behaviors and better communication skills in various settings. This approach is commonly used when medication isn’t an option, and it can continue supporting children as they begin self-correcting behaviors to meet expectations. 

Medication

Pharmaceutical intervention can be a life-changing addition to ADHD treatments for qualifying patients who are having a hard time managing their symtoms. For children over age six who struggle in school and have an ADHD diagnosis, stimulant medications can make it possible to act calmly and focus on school. Because ADHD "wires" their brains differently, stimulants can have a calming effect on their overstimulated nervous system and feel like the missing pieces in a treatment plan. If you think medication may be appropriate for your child, speak to their pediatrician or healthcare provider. Recent research shows that many parents avoid ADHD medication due to misunderstanding how it works, family pressure, concerns about treatment risk, or guilt, despite significant evidence showing the potential benefits

Channel pent-up energy with physical activity

Excessive energy can make it difficult for a child with ADHD to sit still and be quiet during school hours. Consider working with your child’s intervention specialist to plan activity breaks if they have trouble concentrating. Even short bursts of physical activity can help calm the hyperactive impulses kids with ADHD often experience. 

Outside of school, consider finding regular sources of exercise, such as an extracurricular sports team, gym registration, or daily walk. Exercise also provides several mental health benefits and can be used to help reduce the severity and frequency of ADHD symptoms

Social skills that can help kids with ADHD manage school

Many children with ADHD struggle to develop adequate social skills because their disorder can occupy so much of their minds. If you’ve noticed your child having difficulty connecting with other kids their age, consider helping them learn social skills to avoid further rejection by their peers. 

Educate yourself by working with an ADHD coach

If your child recently received an ADHD diagnosis, a wise first step can be to educate yourself as a parent so you understand their disorder and how it affects their behavior, thinking, and emotions. Working with a trained ADHD coach can smooth the transition as you and your child adjust and develop coping skills to manage symptoms. A coach can teach you valuable strategies to provide support as role models and can help your child learn techniques to focus and apply themselves at school. 

Use what they do well to frame new solutions

Positive reinforcement can be an excellent tool, particularly if your child is experiencing low self-esteem. If your child is exceptionally talented at something or shows an increased interest, try using that to relate to them and capture their attention. Framing lessons about social skills within the context of their personal interests may help them retain the information better and avoid straying off topic. 

“People with ADHD are constantly coming up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. They have tremendous levels of creativity and artistic ability. They are world-class problem solvers.” — William Dodson, M.D.

Build awareness of emotions and behaviors

One of the most valuable social skills a child with ADHD can learn is self-awareness of how others perceive their behavior. This perspective taking can help you identify when the child sees their actions as acceptable but others do not see it the same way. Teaching your child to monitor how others react to their behavior can help them recognize when they’re acting out of line, make it easier to self-correct, and reinforce positive behaviors. 

Role-play situations or social cues to teach appropriate behavior

Social skills aren’t always as easy to manage for kids with ADHD, and they may not grasp them naturally. Try role-playing situations to teach your child how they should act in different circumstances, modeling acceptable behaviors for them so they have a realistic example. For example, if your child get easily distracted during conversations, you can try to model strong eye contact to demonstrate engagement.

Practice repetition, routine, and resolution

Learning the basics may be challenging for your child, so practice repetition and routine. Even maintaining a simple conversation can be a chore when their attention is pulled in so many different directions. Practice taking turns talking and listening back and forth, teaching them to wait patiently when it’s not their turn and pay attention when others speak. You can also practice conflict resolution so they know how to handle various tense situations appropriately. 

Join peer groups or clubs outside of school

Consider getting your child with ADHD involved in clubs or peer groups outside of school, such as the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, local sports leagues, programs at the public library, and other ways to interact with people their age in social settings. 

Getty/AnnaStills
Does your child with ADHD have difficulties with social behavior?

How therapy can help with social skills

Working with a licensed therapist can be an effective component of an ADHD treatment plan and may help symptoms of ADHD improve over time. Parents can find support and guidance through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, while TeenCounseling offers virtual treatment for kids from 12 to 19. A qualified therapist can teach practical coping skills to manage symptoms and stress, communication skills to make it easier to express needs and emotions, and help identify and replace harmful thought patterns or behaviors. 


More and more research shows that internet-based interventions for ADHD, like online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are effective treatment options to help manage symptoms and adjust adverse behaviors. Virtual therapy tends to be less expensive, involves shorter wait times, and offers help to people who previously had no local treatment options. 

Takeaway

ADHD can affect your child’s social skills and interactions in various ways, from minor to significant. It can be challenging for parents to watch their children struggle to relate to other kids, but help is available. The information presented in this article may offer insight into social skills that can help kids with ADHD manage symptoms at school and make it easier for them to focus on schoolwork and form friendships.
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