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Signs of ADHD in Children in Peer Relationships

Margaret V. Austin, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

How does ADHD affect peer relationships?

Having ADHD can make it difficult for a child to make and keep friends. This is a critical issue since children's wellbeing and happiness are affected by their peer relationships. Difficult relationships, particularly friendships, can have a severe impact on a child's self-esteem and long-term development.

girls eating lunchResearch shows that children with ADHD are often rejected or exploited by their peers. These painful experiences may increase their risk for developing anxiety and mood disorders; substance abuse; and delinquency. Problems with peers often begin in preschool, and continue into elementary and secondary school. This is especially true for hyperactive children. Bossiness, trouble taking turns, and impulsive acting-out understandably result in peer difficulties. The aggressive behavior that Predominately Hyperactive/Impulsive Type children display can also lead to peer rejection. However, even children without the hyperactive feature of ADHD have difficulties. Children with the inattentive-type (ADD) may be perceived as shy or withdrawn. Thus, they can become prime targets for bullies.

Unfortunately, peer problems and painful rejection are often compounded by excessive and/or harsh discipline by adults. Research indicates that children with ADHD may be punished more often at home and school as adults struggle to correct their negative behaviors.

Signs of ADHD in children's peer relationships:

  • Intrusive behaviors towards peers;
  • Cuts ahead of others in a queue;
  • Difficulty waiting for their turn;
  • Pushes past other children during games;
  • Talks over other children (shouts above them to be heard);
  • Difficulty listening to others;
  • Jealousy about other children's abilities to perform;
  • Tends to show off or otherwise seek attention; and,
  • Wants to have friends but unsure how to make friends.

Signs of ADHD in teens' relationships with peers:

  • Begins to unfavorably compare own performance to that of peers;
  • Admires others, but also resents how easy life is for them;
  • Eagerly seeks friendship but lacks the social skills to be successful;
  • Has trouble understanding the perspective of others;
  • Emotionally sensitive;
  • May engage in negative behaviors in effort to make friends;
  • May start using alcohol or other drugs;
  • Continues to show off with increasingly risky behavior; and,
  • Either self-esteem begins to drop; or, sees self as superior to others in order to explain peer-rejection.