ADHD and Social-Emotional Abilities

Preteens in front of lockers
Children with ADHD often have more social and emotional problems than other children. This is true for all subtypes of ADHD and for both boys and girls. Children with ADHD often have trouble making and keeping friends, for a variety of reasons:

  • They may have difficulty reading social cues; for example, they may interrupt or have trouble taking turns.
  • They may have problems learning social skills, such as conversation skills and problem-solving.
  • They may have trouble controlling their behaviour and emotions. Other children may find their hyperactive or impulsive behaviour irritating.
  • They may be very physical or aggressive.
  • They may react angrily or inappropriately when they are upset.
  • They may have trouble cooperating with friends.

Signs of social problems

Children with ADHD may:

  • behave aggressively
  • be rejected by peers
  • have poor conversational skills
  • have trouble using conversational skills in social situations
  • become frustrated or angry more easily than other children
  • be anxious or depressed
  • seem quiet and withdrawn
  • be shunned or bullied by peers

These "problem" behaviours are not intentional; they are part and parcel of the disorder. Children with ADHD often have trouble regulating their emotions, or controlling emotional reactions.  Many children with ADHD also have a psychiatric disorder such as anxiety disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or conduct disorder. These too can affect children's social and emotional skills.

Helping children with ADHD and social and emotional problems

There are many programs available to help children develop social skills. Research shows that the most effective programs take place in the environment where the child is having trouble.

It is important for parents and teachers to:

  • Teach, model, and support appropriate behaviour.
  • Provide lots of positive feedback to reinforce appropriate behaviour.

Teachers can make a difference in the classroom:

  • Children who feel connected to their school and classroom are more likely to engage in pro-social behaviour. They are also more likely to achieve academically. Teachers can make children feel connected by creating a positive learning environment.
  • Teachers need to become aware of which students are at risk, and then recognize and support their skills.

Parents can help their children with ADHD by:

  • Playing games with them that require following rules, concentration, and cooperation.
  • Talking about difficult situations your child encounters with other children.  Encouraging him or her to be empathetic by thinking how the other person might have felt.
  • Noticing when they handle a situation successfully and pointing out what they did and why it worked.
  • Talking about and imagining the consequences of actions or behaviour, such as “What do you think might happen if you did that?” or “What might the other person feel like if you said that?”
  • Helping them to understand the importance of personal space and boundaries. For example, not interrupting when someone else is talking and not speaking too loudly.

Social skills training is usually provided by a trained counsellor. It can help children with:

  • communication
  • anger management
  • problem-solving and conflict resolution
  • improving interpersonal skills
  • making and keeping friends

Tara McAuley, PhD, CPsych

Peter Chaban, MA, MEd

Rosemary Tannock, PhD

10/14/2009


Notes: