Building friendships and learning how to be kind to others comes easy for some kids; but if you struggle with self-regulation, flexible thinking, and managing your emotions, this task can be stressful and much easier said than done.
Children with ADHD often have a strong desire to be good students and want to be good friends. Unfortunately, children with ADHD often lack the appropriate Executive Functioning Skills to make and keep friends. Executive Functioning Skills (EFS) is a set of cognitive abilities that allow individuals to control and regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions in order to achieve their goals. These skills include impulse control, emotional control, working memory, flexible thinking, self-monitoring, self-regulation, planning and prioritizing, and organization.
A child with ADHD can experience impulsive behavior, lack flexible thinking, or lack of self-regulation, which can hold them back from making and keeping friends. Their EFS deficit can sometimes cause them to have a short fuse at recess when someone doesn't follow the rules. This same impulsive behavior can cause them to say something inappropriate or sarcastic in an effort to be funny; simply to end up actually insulting or isolating someone they wanted to be friends with. Your kiddo’s best friend might not be at school, and that’s ok. Sometimes all a child can do is simply keep their emotions in check, just to get through the day. They might not have anything left for making deep connections or friendships. Help take this pressure off of them. Find ways for them to succeed and connect outside of school with like-minded individuals. It’s important for their mental health. Everyone needs at least one friend, this simple thing can make a world of difference.
But how do we help our kids with ADHD develop the necessary skills needed to make new friends? While EFS must be developed and fostered by everyone, it is extremely important for children with ADHD to intentionally take time to focus on fostering and forming these skills. Students who have well-developed EFS are better able to organize their thoughts and ideas when trying to communicate and make friends. They are better able to control their feelings during a tight competition, it’s easier to wait your turn to contribute in large group conversations, and you simply feel more confident when your EFS is running at full capacity. Impulse control, working memory, flexible thinking, and emotion regulation are key components in developing necessary social skills needed for connecting with peers and making friends.
Family game night is a great way to sneak in EFS practice and have fun without making it a big deal about it. Games that help teach EFS/social skills necessary for making friends include: Guess Who, Memory, and 20 Questions (promotes memory skills, and learning how to ask good detailed questions), Apples to Apples, Taboo, Crazy Eight (encourages flexible thinking), Uno and Spoons (encourages emotion regulation). Enjoy being a family while also strengthening social skills. Plan for and welcome a few meltdowns, as these are great opportunities for growth! Help your kiddo rally and regroup if they lose their cool or get disappointed. Model, model, model … pop some popcorn, and enjoy!
Don't stop there!
Mastering specific Executive Functioning Skills is essential when trying to form and develop social skills necessary for developing friendships. Being someone's friend includes knowing how to share, being empathetic, knowing how to ask kind inquisitive questions, learning to give positive encouraging feedback, and practicing the art of compromise. Children can learn these skills by practicing with their parents and siblings at home. It might sound silly, but this is the perfect family game night activity! Start by helping kids brainstorm different scenarios. Write them down on small slips of paper and toss them in a big bowl. Take turns pulling slips of paper out of the bowl, just like you were playing charades. Role-playing silly and serious situations kids might encounter at school or while playing in the neighborhood is crucial for children with ADHD. It allows them time to think through a situation and get feedback unattached to a specific emotion or personal situation. This activity is a great way to bond as a family and model appropriate behavior for your kids. Don’t be afraid to be silly and have fun with it!