Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with peer interaction for a number of reasons. A child’s overactivity and impulsivity can sometimes be aversive to other children. Children with ADHD can also be blunt or overly frank with their peers. Further, children with ADHD often have difficulty linking current behaviors to long-term outcomes. Thus, social skills that do not have an immediate payoff (e.g., sharing, cooperating, and taking turns) may not seem worthwhile to them. Below are a number of strategies used to improve social skills in children with ADHD.
HOME-BASED SOCIAL SKILLS TRAINING PROGRAM:
While home-based interventions don’t always translate to other settings. Working with your child at home can’t hurt and can often be very effective in improving social relationship skills. Below is a home-based social skills training program borrowed from Russell Barkley (a well known ADHD researcher). You can read about it in more detail in chapter 13 of his book Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete Authoritative Guide for Parents, Revised Edition.
If your child is struggling because he/she is having trouble reading social cues, he/she may also benefit from something called emotion education, which is usually included in most social skills training programs/therapies. For this type of intervention, children learn to better understand and read others’ emotions as well as their own. While some children learn these behaviors through observation, others need to be explicitly taught how to infer what others are thinking and feeling. You can work on these skills by asking questions like “How do you know if someone is (mad, sad, happy, etc.)? What does their face look like? How do you know when you are feeling sad? What does it feel like in your body?” You can also play games like emotion charades where you and your child would act out different emotions and try to guess what the other is feeling. Many schools also offer social skills/friendship groups which teach these types of skills. The book Skills Training for Children with Behavior Disorders, a Parent and Therapist Guidebook by Michael Bloomquist is also a good resource. It has many exercises to target emotion education as well as social skills training.
SOCIAL SKILLS GROUPS:
There are also some group activities that are more conducive to social skills development. Look for group activities without a competitive atmosphere that emphasize cooperation, and are structured (i.e. scouts, 4H, church youth groups). Your child may be most successful in situations that incorporate cooperative learning, which involves a group of children working together as a team to complete a common goal (i.e., building a model, conducting a science experiment, building a fort in the back yard). These types of activities generally increase liking and positive feeling towards group members. In general, activities that involve structure and adult supervision are best for children with ADHD.
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