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Tips for Teachers: Improving Social Skills in Students with ADHD

Thank you to all of our professional educators who are dedicated to our children! We know how difficult it can be working with children with ADHD, so here are your teacher’s tips for the week, brought to you by the ADHD Information Library and This is a sample of over 500 classroom interventions for use at Here are some tips to improve social skills: Provide a safe environment for the child. Make sure your child knows that you are her friend and that you are there to help her. Treat it with respect. Never belittle him in front of his peers. Both he and the other children know that he stands out, and if the teacher belittles the child, then the rest of the children will see it as permission from the teacher to belittle the child as well.

Students with attention problems experience many difficulties in the social area, especially in relationships with peers. They tend to have great difficulty picking up social cues from others, act impulsively, have limited awareness of their effect on others, show delayed role-taking, and over-personalize others’ actions as critical, and tend to not to acknowledge positive feedback. . They tend to play better with younger or older children when their roles are clearly defined. These students tend to repeat self-defeating social behavior patterns and do not learn from the experience. Conversational, they may ramble and say embarrassing things to their peers. Areas and time periods with less structure and less supervision, such as the playground and class parties, can be especially problematic. Enlisting the support of peers in the classroom can greatly improve your student’s self-esteem. Students with a good social conscience and who like to help can be paired with him. This pairing can take the form of being a “study buddy,” doing activities/projects, or playing on the playground. Cross-age tutoring with older or younger students can also have social benefits. The most successful pairing is achieved with proper preparation of the matched student, planning meetings with the peer to set expectations, and with parental permission. Matching expectations and time commitments should be fairly narrow in scope to increase the opportunity for success and decrease the constraints on the paired students. Students with attention problems tend to do well in cooperative group instruction format. Small student groups of three to five members, in which students “sink or swim” together to complete assignments/projects, encourage students to share ideas and organizational responsibilities, and provide an ideal environment to process interpersonal skills on a regular basis . Small “play groups” of two to four students can help your student develop more effective social skills. These groups are most effective if socially competent peers willingly include themselves in the group. The group should focus on activities that emphasize interaction and cooperation. Board games, building projects, and sessions that promote frequent verbal interactions provide the best opportunity to learn proper social skills and control impulsivity. Your student would benefit most when the targeted social skills are identified and practiced before the activity and processed after the activity.

Many students lack friends to be with outside of the school environment. It may be beneficial to strategize with your student and her parents to develop a “friendship plan” for the home. Sometimes the goal of establishing a special friendship is ambitious and enough. This could include steps to identify potential friends who might be available/accepting, practice making arrangements using the phone, planning an activity or sleepover that is structured/predictable, and tips on maintaining friendships over time. A subtle way for your child to learn social skills is through the use of guided observation of her peers on the playground. Join them on the playground and point out how other students initiate activities, cooperate in a game, respond to rejection, cope with being alone, etc. For many students, thirty minutes on the playground is beyond their ability to maintain successful relationships with their peers. If necessary, break up recess into ten minutes of activity, ten minutes of check-in with the teacher/yard supervisor, and then another ten minute activity period.

Restricting the area available to your student during recess can increase contact with adult supervision and decrease the complexity of social decision-making. This can be done privately with your student before recess. Many students welcome this way of simplifying their social interactions during this period of low structure. It is helpful to meet with your student prior to their recess/lunch period to review their plan for recess activities and who they will be sitting with during lunch. Ask him to ask his classmates before the recess block to do a certain activity with him. Process the activity with your student after recess and make suggestions for the next day. Hopefully these will help the ADHD students in your classroom be more successful. You can learn more about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the ADHD Information Library.

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