Understanding how ADHD affects your child’s social skills and what you can do to help

Social skills refer to the skills we use to interact with others. These skills can be verbal – our tone of voice, how loud we speak, the choice of words we use – and non-verbal – all the gestures and body language we use to express ourselves. 

According to a study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, children learn how to solve social situations by predicting and understanding others’ behaviour. The ability to do that comes from the complex interaction between neural, behavioural, and environmental elements. Having good social skills plays a role in peer acceptance, academic achievement and mental health. 

How ADHD affects your child’s social skills 

In an article published by Foothills Academy, psychologist, Tanvir Gill, points out that the executive function in children with ADHD can be delayed up to 30%. The brain’s executive function controls their ability to wait their turn, avoid getting distracted, direct their actions, control their emotions, and use their working memory to respond in social settings. Therefore, ADHD-diagnosed children do not have the emotional maturity of children their own age, e.g. a 10-year-old with ADHD may behave more like a 7- or 8-year-old, and have a hard time sharing or losing at games. 

ADHD may affect your child in the following ways: 

The role of parents 

Parents play a major role in how their children interact with the world. We are our children’s first teachers, and the family environment is their first social setting. Children who are socially and emotionally immature, such as those with ADHD, need more support to develop their social skills. 

Here are some tried and tested tips from experts and parents: 

1. Provide immediate feedback.

Provide immediate, frequent feedback on your child’s social behaviour, whether it’s inappropriate or praiseworthy.

2. Model good behaviour.

Discuss inappropriate and appropriate behaviours and social cues and norms, using:

 

a. Books and storytelling: This can be done by telling stories where the characters provide a teachable skill, or you can make up your own story, incorporating characters who exhibit 

inappropriate behaviour, such as making fun of someone, or those who have good social skills, such as being thankful when someone does something for you. 

b. TV: When watching TV or movies, point out facial expressions or scenarios that demonstrate inappropriate behaviour in characters. 

Ask your child: How did the characters feel? How did the character’s behaviour affect the others? What did they do well? What could they have done differently? 

3. Focus on a few areas that your child is struggling with.

Talk to your child about the social behaviours you would like to see in them, and explain the social rules and behaviours that go with that skill. Set goals that are achievable and specific, e.g. don’t interrupt when someone is speaking for one day.

4. Play interactive games

(e.g. Scrabble, Uno, Pictionary, Hedbanz, 30 Seconds) with family members. This will help their communication, turn-taking, and perspective-taking skills.

5. Role-play difficult scenarios

that your child may have encountered or may encounter, such as teasing, and discuss ways to deal with the situation. If your child is experiencing a particular problem, start with acknowledging their feelings and defining exactly why they are reacting a certain way, then discuss alternative ways to respond.

6. Reward positive interactions and your child’s improved social skills.

Your verbal praise will go a long way in reinforcing the skills they’ve put in practise and will help build your child’s confidenc

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