Social skills


Child sitting on a bench watching other children playing
  • Some learning and attention issues can lead to specific social challenges.
  • Difficulty making friends can cause children to lose self-confidence.
  • There are strategies that can help your child build social skills.

Why can’t my child make friends? This can be a difficult question to ask yourself. But if your child rarely gets invited on playdates and spends most of his time alone at home, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.

For children of all ages, friendships offer the acceptance, approval and sense of belonging they crave. If your child struggles to connect with others and form friendships, it can be a blow to his self-esteem. It can leave him feeling alone and frustrated.

What Can Cause Trouble With Making Friends

If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues. Some learning and attention issues have a direct impact on social skills. Some affect communication skills or listening comprehension skills, which can make conversation difficult. And others create a variety of behaviors that can get in the way of making friends.

ADHD: Children with ADHD may lack self-control, be overactive, talk too much, talk without thinking or not pay attention to what other people are saying.

Executive functioning issues: Children with executive functioning issues may have trouble sharing, taking turns, controlling emotions and accepting other viewpoints.

Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD): Children with NVLD may miss social cues like body language, expression and tone of voice. They may not understand humour or sarcasm and may take what others say too literally.

Language disorders: Children with language disorders may not understand the rules of conversation or may have trouble finding the right words. They may avoid talking when around other kids.

Auditory processing disorder (APD): Children with APD may miss the point of what others are saying, miss words in conversation or have trouble following the directions in games.

Trouble Making Friends: A Common Problem

Not all children with learning and attention issues struggle to make friends. For some, social skills are their strength! But if it’s a trouble spot for your child, he’s not alone. Childen with learning and attention issues often face social challenges. When compared with their peers, studies have shown they’re more likely to be:

  • Poorly accepted by their peers
  • Socially alienated from teachers and classmates
  • Viewed by teachers as lacking social skills
  • Not chosen to play or join in group activities
  • Willing to conform to peer pressure

Children can feel that they don’t “fit in” at school or at outside activities. They may even feel that way at home with siblings.

It’s a very real issue because many with learning and attention issues do stand out sometimes. They may require additional time and attention from teachers, parents and others. They may call negative attention to themselves by asking inappropriate questions, seeming uninterested in conversations, and interrupting or moving around a lot at the wrong times. Others may react badly or turn away.

How Friend Troubles Can Impact Your Child

Your child may be resilient and bounce back from social setbacks. Or he may enjoy spending a lot of time alone. But for many, difficulty making friends can have negative effects. It can hurt their self-esteem, wear down their confidence and keep them from trying new activities. They may feel self-conscious, sad, angry, helpless or hopeless. It can be hard for children to manage these intense feelings and find ways to cope. Encouraging your child to talk about his feelings can help him feel better about himself. Just knowing he can come to you for support and comfort can make a big difference.

Ways You Can Help

If your child feels his learning and attention issues are making him stand out, there are ways you can help. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good first step. The teacher may be able to find ways to put your child in positive group experiences or match him up with classmates who are more accepting and share his interests.

At home, you can work on changing the dynamic between your child and his siblings. You can also try to change the way you respond so your child isn’t singled out as much. And you can take steps to make social events like playdates, sleepovers and birthday parties more successful for your child.

If you see that your child is struggling with his emotions, you might want to consider counselling. Learn more about how to help your child build communication skills, improve social cues and become more resilient. Strengthening those skills may give him the confidence to try new ways to connect with other kids.

Key Takeaways

  • Learning and attention issues like ADHD and auditory processing disorder can affect a child’s ability to make friends.
  • Poor social skills can make kids feel sad, embarrassed and isolated.
  • You and your child’s teacher can help him improve his social skills and connect with other kids.