Last year, Huffington Post called it “the catch phrase of our digital generation: ‘Find Your Tribe’. It’s been used as a call for those seeking a like-minded community and it’s everywhere. Yoga groups. Cooking groups. Blogathons. Ultimate Frisbee clubs. You name it! But what seems like a luxury for most of us is actually a necessity for kids with ADHD: having a group of like-minded kids (and adults who support them) creates an environment that fosters learning, connection, and growth.
Every parent wants their child to have friends, and it’s heartbreaking to see or hear of your child being excluded or left behind. But it becomes even more difficult when your child has ADHD and desperately wants to connect with others, but their impulsivity, distractibility, or social skills get in the way. So when you see your child struggling to connect, you want to help. But how? How can you help your child find their tribe? Let’s start off by saying: your child’s tribe doesn’t need to be big! Research shows that for kids with ADHD having just one close friend can make a difference. Having quality friendships even with a small group can help build self-esteem and resiliency, and can of course reduce loneliness.
Begin by getting your child involved in an activity that interests them. It may sound simple, a structured setting and an interesting activity will provide your child with the foundation that they need to start building their tribe. Involve your child in choosing the activity, and make sure to put your own preferences and interests aside! If you push your child into signing up for something that they don’t enjoy, you run the risk of having them feel alienated and different from the other kids who have enrolled because they are excited and interested.
Watch and observe your child during the activity. Are they connecting with another child? Does it seem like both kids are having fun? If so, seek out the parent of the other child and suggest a follow-up play date. “I noticed our sons really enjoyed today’s planetarium workshop. My son loves space but doesn’t have too many buddies who also share his interest. Would you and your son like to meet up at the museum sometime this month for a planetarium show together? The boys might enjoy connecting again over their love of space.” Give your child the chance to reconnect with their new friend within the context of their shared interest before venturing into open-play opportunities.
In addition to new activities, think about current activities that your child participates in. If your child attends a tutoring center, religious ed. class, or music lesson then they are meeting kids every day outside of school who have the potential to become good friends. Ask your child if there’s anyone from their afterschool activities who they would like to hang out with. Help them come up with a plan for talking with this child about a shared interest, and then inviting them to get together outside of school – preferably to do something related to something that they both enjoy.
And lastly, during a get-together, provide your child with some subtle social skills coaching. Talk to them ahead of time about what it means to be a good host or a good guest. Remind them to take turns, and to look out for their new friend to make sure they are having a good time. If they aren’t picking up on social cues, discretely pull them aside and give them some strategies to try out. If a conflict comes up, rock-paper-scissors is always a great tool to fall back on – it works just about every time!
Helping your child find their tribe can build self-confidence and help your child feel more comfortable in their own skin. A little support from parents can go a long way in helping kids with ADHD make valuable connections that may just turn into the close childhood friendships that they have been missing.