How to Improve Social Skills in a Teen Who is Gifted or has Learning Differences

My Child is Lonely

Q: How can I improve social skills in a child who is gifted or has learning differences?

Gifted lonely childI try to help my child make new friends, but she will not listen. She clings onto friends who don’t treat her well. It is so difficult to watch – again – the same mistakes that ultimately leave her in pain! When I manage the courage to discuss it, she screams, “I AM Fine, Thank you Very Much!” or “I’m OK! I don’t want to talk about it!”  How can I improve social skills in my teen?

Unfortunately, everything is not “OK”

A: Social isolation is excruciating! You know that despite his claims that he has plenty of friends – he doesn’t have the kind of positive friendships we want for our kids.

Spontaneous social interactions have been disrupted

This loss of social engagement may have impacted your child’s ability to learn and practice social skills naturally. Asking her to “reach out” may seem like a simple suggestion, but she may resist due to all the steps and time required to coordinate the invitation. It may also be that she has a thin social network and fears rejection.

Those with the greatest needs – children and teens with ADHD or 2e – have fewer opportunities to socialize

Usually those with the greatest needs – children and teens with ADHD or 2e – lack the social skills, maturity, executive functioning skills and self-awareness to makes friends and therefore have fewer opportunities to socialize. This social isolation produces a more negative impact than in their neurotypical peers.

5 Ways to Help Your Child Manage Social Relationships:

  1. Evaluate friendships – Help your child evaluate what makes an attractive friend and which steps are required to make and keep friends. Don’t single out a friend. Instead help your tween or teen recognize the steps necessary to connect. This will allow her to examine friendships in general. After all, even if that one friend is removed from the equation, the problem still remains.
  2. Explore the value of friendships – Unless the friendship is a dangerous one, take a conversational approach by asking him about his friends without judgment or harsh restrictions. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What do you enjoy doing with your friend?” “What do you like about him or her?”  We want children to develop lifelong positive beliefs about how they should be treated and to choose positive friends who make positive choices.
  3. Empathize – Information is power, so regardless of what your child says, take a moment to breathe and listen. The larger goal is to gain your child’s trust, which is more important than any minor rule infraction. Help your child know that she can always feel comfortable coming to you, no matter what social problems she’s encountering, now or in the future.
  4. Don’t impose your goals – Ask and listen, don’t apply pressure nor assume you know the reasons for your child’s behavior. Getting your child to feel comfortable talking to you requires waiting, listening, and showing confidence that they have the capacity to learn and grow. If you try to push your agenda, you will likely get nowhere. By truly hearing your child’s perspective, you allow her to hold a mirror up to her views about friendship and evaluate them. This takes time, but it will have better results.
  5. Reflect, clarify and be curious – Paraphrasing what your child says and then repeating it back to him shows empathy and helps clarify your child’s concerns.  By summarizing and repeating his statements, you allow your child to clarify, share more information, and to tell his interpretation of the statement. This curiosity invites him to be comfortable opening up to you.

Good social skills are essential for effective communication, but they don’t come easily.

The good news is that social skills, just like other skills, can be developed.

First help your child identify the reasons why they want to improve, and then practice and practice.

Deeper Dive:

My Child Can’t Make Friends & Keep Them – What is Wrong With Her?

7 Ways to Help Your Kid’s Rusty Social Skills Now That the Pandemic Is Winding Down

2 Upcoming, Relatable Summits

SENG -July 23 -25, 2021 – Virtual conference for gifted, talented and 2e community!

ADHD Parents’ Palooza –  July 26 – 28, 2021, designed to educate, guide, and inspire parents of kids with ADHD all over the world.

DO This At Home!

For scripts, tools, advice and actionable exercises on helping children develop social skills, check out Why Will No One Play with Me? and How to SEL

Do I Need to Teach My Kid How to Make A Friend? I Never Needed That Kind of Support, Why Does He?

By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed. PCC

Everyone wants your child to have friends, be invited to parties, have sleepovers, have someone to sit with during swim practice and have the ability to make friends without your help.  But things are not going well, and you are watching from a distance while your child seems to sit alone or barge in to a group or dominates the conversation. And you wonder why can’t this kid just make friends?

Some kids learn social behaviors and just fit in and get along with others. And other children really struggle. And here is the paradox if a child does not play well with others then they are invited to play less and then they do not get the crucial opportunity to practice their social skills. And they lose confidence. We get confidence from doing and from practicing. And the longer this struggle goes on research tells us – the harder it is for children to move past this struggle.


Practice Makes Better

For most children practice makes everything better. BUT for children who struggle socially- they are often leery to practice or in a world of invitation only play dates- they do not have anyone to play with. And socially awkward children, quirky kids, shy kids and kids with challenging behaviors do not get invited to play or begin to opt out of play because they simply do not know how to produce the friendship behaviors that their peers desire.

The good news is that social skills can be developed just like any other skills and this means that no matter how bad things seem- your child’s social struggles can change. But to do this you must help your child. She won’t change these behaviors on her own. And she needs coaching to help her move forward.

When children are young, we coach them to throw a ball, swim, write thank you notes, shake hands and myriad other things. We do not expect our children to learn math by osmosis, but we often forget that learning social skills takes practice and work too. And this is no different. Children will not learn to make a friend on their own. We must help them.


But I Learned To Make Friends On My Own

You may be thinking – well I learned to make friends with no help. Maybe. But each child is unique and many children who struggle with friendship have  executive function weaknesses and this means they do not learn new social behaviors on their own. This is often because these children have executive function weaknesses. Executive functions are the management system of the brain – a series of processes that come together and help us:

·       Self-regulate

·       Focus attention

·       Manage emotions

·       Learn from past experiences

·       Adapt to new situations

·       Plan and prioritize

·       Think about the future

·       Self- monitor

·       Initiate tasks


These are all brain-based capacities directly affect how your child behaves in social situations.  And every child has a unique mix of executive function strengths and weaknesses. Executive function is not all or nothing there are degrees of impairment and these executive functions may explain your child’s baffling behaviors. For instance, your child cries and wants friends but when they come over, she ignores them, she tells you she wants to share but then during a play date she is bossy and tries to control everything her friend does. Your child may lack self-awareness and think he is friends with everyone, he may talk at people rather than with them, he may be too silly and too goofy and just invades everyone’s space.

This may be why your child needs support and direct instruction to learn to have successful socialization. And it may be why his behavior often seems  baffling and does not make sense.


Becoming Your Child’s Social Skills Coach


You may already be spending time trying to help your child with his social dilemmas. And you may face resistance from your child. That is natural. We all struggle to work on what is hard for us.

And your child may lack self-awareness due to his executive function weaknesses and he may not be aware of his own behavior and its impact on others. But you are the best person to help your child and let’s face it- you are on the front lines working with your child or teen every day.

You are already putting in huge efforts to help your child. Now we are going to shift the way you approach coaching your child, so you are more effective.


To become your child’s social skills coach, you must first understand that this may be a long journey -especially if your child is resistant to the conversation. And there are degrees of buy in from your child, she may not jump up and cheer or show enthusiasm to work with you. But there are degrees of buy in and if your child shrugs or answers your questions- this may be enough.

No matter what – do not surrender the conversation. As parents, we are engaged in difficult conversations, and we are not having them with someone who WANTS to have the conversation with us.

When we can step into their shoes and really explore this with them and continue to talk, then we don’t surrender the conversation. Continuing to have an open, collaborative conversation is essential to helping your child learn to make and keep friends.


5 Steps To Have Hard Conversations With Your Child


1.     Pave the Way


Having difficult conversations about challenging subjects can be hard for parents. You may ask yourself how do I get started?  Paving the way for the conversation is an important step. For young children its easier because they


2.     No Matter What They Say Empathize


Information is power. Often as parents, it is difficult not to react to what your child says. We’ve all launched right into blame, punishment, advice and, then the, “I told you so.” No matter what your child says — he skipped school, is avoiding lunch, or he broke the coffee table — let go of the desire to jump in and react. Take a moment to breathe, and then, listen. The larger goal is to gain your child’s trust, and it is more important than any minor rule infraction. Taking a moment to step back will help your child know that he can always feel comfortable coming to you.


3.     Reflect, Clarify and Be Curious


Paraphrasing what your child says and then repeating it back to him shows empathy and helps you clarify your child’s concerns. For example, he might declare that he believes that, “people should invite me to play—I shouldn’t have to approach them.” “Reflect” this statement back to him — “What I hear you are saying is that you won’t approach anyone; they must come to you.” By summarizing and repeating his statements, you allow your child to clarify, share more information, and to tell his interpretation of the statement. By being curious and trying to understand his perspective you invite him to be comfortable opening up to you.


4.     Don’t Impose Your Goals on the Situation


Ask your child questions and listen. Do not assume you know the reasons for your child’s behavior. Do not apply pressure and impose your own goals and agenda on the situation. Getting your child to feel comfortable talking to you is about hearing and waiting and showing confidence that your child has the capacity to learn and grow.


5.     Partner and Problem Solve With Your Child


Like any of us, children share more when they feel heard and understood. They can put their guard down, engage more readily in the coaching process, commit to developing their social skills, and invest in their success. When you allow for more of a two-way conversation, your child will be more comfortable opening up. Having a calm, open discussion in the heat of the moment allows your child to know that in the future, he can count on you as a partner rather than a judge.


Making friends is not an easy task for some children. But playing well with others is an essential life skill – as important as any other academic skill.


My new book, Why Will No One Play With Me? will teach parents how to coach their child through any social problem. Be sure to take my new checklist to determine if your child needs social skills help at


My Child Can’t Make Friends & Keep Them – What is Wrong With Her?

By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed. PCC

Your child has worked all year preparing for a school play, after the play he leaves without speaking to another person. You watch your child pester her friends and brag until the kids visibly shrink away.   And as you watch you think why my child can’t make friends.

You are ashamed but you feel anger, shame and deep frustration with your child. You have endless talks with her but she just doesn’t get it.


No One Should Struggle To Make a Friend

Parents are often concerned about how ADHD impacts schooling and homework, but making a friend is frequently what is on the child’s mind. When I told that eight-year-old that sat in my office that day that there was a possibility that if he learned how to change his approach he could make more friends, he beamed! And that is when I set out to make sure that no child would ever be left to struggle alone to make a friend. Thus the Play Better Plan and subsequently, my book, Why Will No One Play With Me was born.

As much as you love your child, you know that he cannot spend every Saturday night with you for rest of his childhood. Of course you see the flaws and you also know him best—the funny, lovable kid that you wish everybody knew. Unfortunately, that is not what other kids see.

You have painfully watched your child struggle over the years. Maybe your kindergartener can’t sit still in school or he is too loud and the other kids are put off. Or your fourth-grade child can’t look other kids in the eye. Maybe it’s your eight-year-old that doesn’t transition well and has a meltdown every time you ask her to leave a play date and this discourages the parents from inviting her back.

Why is it so hard to make a friend? I’m sure you’ve talked to him about his behavior, begged and bribed him to be better, but odds are, none of these tactics have worked. Your child wants to get along. He wants to make a friend. He just doesn’t know how.

Social Skills Don’t Always Come Naturally

Child development experts describe children who have a hard time understanding social cues and managing their behavior as having social skills deficits, or weaknesses. It is hard for them to read social cues accurately or understand the unspoken rules of social relationships or play. It is hard for them to adapt their behavior in response to other kids or as a play situation changes. Without those skills, it is hard to make a friend.


Your Child’s “Hub” Is Unevenly Developed

Social skills weaknesses are caused by a wide variety of factors, but the most common is that the brain’s network of executive functions is unevenly developed. Executive function is the hub of skills such as attention, memory, organization, planning, and other cognitive or critical-thinking skills, self-regulation, metacognition (the big-picture, birds-eye view), and the ability to modify our behavior in response to others to achieve a goal.

These are the basic skills every child needs to function well in the social world. In a nutshell, if a child’s executive function social skills are weak, then he has a harder time understanding and managing social interactions. These problems show up in:

·       what children pay attention to in a social setting

·       what they notice about their friends’ needs and reactions

·       how they respond to disappointment or manage other emotions

·       how they think about friendship

·       how they react to new or shifting social situations


Play is the first and most natural thing all kids do. It’s that basis for learning. Social behavior is best learned by playing with others. But when your child does not naturally understand how to make friends- then she needs direct instruction and coaching to make friends.  Here is where they learn how their behavior affects others; they practice seeing other points of view and learn how to get along and make a friend.

The Play Paradox- Play Less Equals Less Social Skills

Today, children don’t get as many spontaneous social interactions. This loss of free playtime has impacted the child’s ability to learn these lessons naturally through “practice time.” For those with executive function challenges, the impact is greater.

As the gap widens, these children often become socially isolated. Usually those with the greatest needs are those getting the least opportunity creating a huge challenge for the child and parent.

The good news is that social skills can be developed just like any other skill. Scientists have discovered that when children with social challenges engage in skill-building activities on a consistent basis, they can learn to interact effectively with other in a social setting.

No matter how hopeless you feel today, your child’s friendship challenges are far from insurmountable. With your help and guidance, your child can build social awareness, improve executive function skills, and learn how to make and keep friends.

How Will Coaching Help My Child?

As a parent, you are on the frontlines trying to help you child with social dilemmas, but until now, haven’t had the resources to properly manage the challenges. Coaching is the process of teaching and practicing social skills with your child. You are helping them with the basic skills they need to make a friend.

Think about sports for a minute. A child has a coach to help with basketball skills and the rules of the game. The coach demonstrates and models the drills that need to be done, observes the players and gives feedback and encouragement.

If They Could, They Would.

Children with social skills weaknesses need help learning those basic skills to participate socially so they aren’t doing something wrong and getting pulled off to the bench.

When your child seem oblivious to the feelings of others or to the way his behavior affects how they treat him, it might seem logical to lecture longer or louder until he gets it. If that has not been working for you and you would like to see different results, the shift is easier than you think.

Coaching your child to better social skills is not complicated or hard. You can do this! As a parent who is always on the frontlines with your child, you have an advantage over anyone else as a consulting coach. It’s those teachable on-the-spot moments that make a parent’s coaching so valuable.


Your Child Will No Longer Be Alone

You have already been putting forth huge efforts to improve your child’s social status, but nothing has brought about any lasting change. With basic coaching techniques, all of that changes. “Coach” at the end of the day is just another word for parent with a game plan.


My new book, Why Will No One Play With Me? will teach parents how to coach their child through any social problem. Be sure to take my new checklist to determine if your child needs social skills help at

How Can I Get Through To My Kid That He Has To Stop Arguing With His Teachers So Much

By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed. PCC

You just received another text from your son’s teacher. He’s in trouble again for his outbursts and continuing to argue with his teacher. You’ve had numerous conversations with David, pleading with him to stop arguing, but nothing changes. 

When he gets home, you ask him about the encounter, and he seems to have no idea that he has been rude.  He tells you, “I wasn’t talking out of turn; the teacher just doesn’t get me.”  As a parent this makes you wonder if children with ADHD are more self-centered than other children. Of course not, however, some of the characteristics children with ADHD have can give the appearance of being rude and insensitive.

Some children with ADHD don’t have the perspective or ability to see how others interpret their actions and behaviors.  Take David for example – At first glance, you would see him as a bright elementary school boy. He looks easygoing and fun, but can’t stop butting heads with his teachers. He won’t stop arguing. It doesn’t matter what the topic is, David is right, and he will argue and debate it until he gets in trouble.

Children like David don’t have the capacity to understand how they come across when interacting with teachers and other adults. Their intentions are good, but they don’t really know how to tune in and “walk in the other person’s shoes.”

When feeling bored, overwhelmed, hungry, tired or face a self-regulating challenge, ADHD children like David can unintentionally forget social rules and without meaning to, come across as uncaring and bad mannered. They struggle with interpreting social cues, but with proper support, they CAN work to develop a better perspective.

Taking other people’s perspective and understanding that other people have an inner emotional life and being able to detect that point of view is known as Theory of Mind.  When someone has Theory of Mind it means they can detect the perspective, emotions and understand what motivates others.

Having Theory of Mind means understanding that other people’s thoughts and feelings may be different from your own. How many times have you heard someone tell you, “Think before you speak?” Children who do not have the ability to read the minds of others do not hear or notice that their tone, misguided humor, continual monologue, or how abrupt subject changes may alienate others. Parents are baffled as to what to do.

The Path to Change

When children don’t stop arguing, it is often because they do not easily interpret social cues and tune into the mental states (emotions) of others. They misread behavior and therefore do not understand how their physical and verbal actions affect other people. Teaching children Theory of Mind means helping the ADHD child consider others’ point of view, perspective, desires, motives, and intentions. 


Children with Theory of Mind Can:

·       Interpret how their teacher and friends feel

·       Decode the information in the environment

·       Envision someone else’s reaction to a behavior or event

·       Attribute beliefs and desires to someone

·       Walk in someone else’s shoes

·       Predict actions based on a person’s knowledge

·       Understand false beliefs

·       Recognize what information other people know

·       Uncover the speaker’s intentions and inferred message

·       Anticipate that one’s actions provoke reactions from other people

To teach Theory of Mind effectively, parents need to understand the open-ended questions technique.

So what exactly are open-ended questions and how can you use them with your child to get him to stop arguing? Open-ended questions are for parents who witness the sharp tones and behavior of their children – and are looking for a sound way to develop Theory of Mind. This style of questioning allows the parent to use a type of coaching communication technique that leads the child through a process to look at the feelings of others.

It provides the child with perspective to be able to examine his own behavior and choices. Children can learn how to alter their behavior and using open-ended questions is one way to help those who lack Theory of Mind to create a greater awareness of the mindset of others.

This coaching technique also eliminates a lot of unnecessary friction, for example, rather than telling David, “You need to stop arguing with your teachers,” think about asking, “How do you think your teacher feels when you speak out of turn and are always arguing with her?”  This coaching technique will allow the child to consider that other people have thoughts about his behavior and that his behavior can negatively or positively affect others – this builds self-awareness and Theory of Mind.

With proper support, parents can learn to effectively use the open-ended questions technique, initially taught by ADHD professionals. This is not a cure, there is no magic here, but used consistently, it does show a sustained improvement in the child’s Theory of Mind.

Step 1:

Open-ended questions use the words who, what, when, where, how, and why. They ask, rather than tell.  The process looks like this:

a) David, who thinks all facts are worth arguing about, even with adults, and often will go so far as to correct other adults. 

b) Ask David, “How do you think I feel when you correct me?” It can be beneficial to have him look at your face and interpret what you are currently feeling.

c) Then, no matter what the answer is, even if it’s a shrug and an, “I don’t know,” continue to ask him, “What do you think the appropriate behavior should have been?” 


This begins to help the child think about what the unspoken social rules were and what they are expected to do in the future.  The questions help the child with ADHD pause and reflect on other people’s state of mind.   In the minivan or on the go continue to ask him questions when his conversations present as forgetting other people’s feelings.

Questions can center on:

·       What do other people feel?

·       What is the reaction to their behavior?

·       What did the other people’s facial expression tell them about their feelings?

·       What was the behavior that would make people feel positive about them?

·       What was the appropriate behavior in the situation?


The open-ended question coaching technique walks the ADHD child through interpreting other people’s point of view to examine how their actions and behaviors affect others.  Self-regulation and other coping skills may need to be practiced to help children put their best foot forward, but the key is to help the child consider how they come across to those in every day interactions.

Step 2: 

On an ongoing basis and on the spot when the child is rude or dismissive, begin to ask him open-ended questions that allow him to reflect on his actions and how they might make other people feel.

Additional questions to insight conversation can include:

•        How do you think your classmates feel when you can’t stop arguing?

•        What do you think happens when you don’t show the teacher respect?

•        What were the circumstances and how did you adjust?

•        What were the typical behaviors in that environment?

•        What did you notice about the teacher?

•        What could you do when you are bored?

•        What happens if your tone is dismissive?

•        What do you think your peers think when you are bored disrupt class?


The main questions center around helping the ADHD child who struggles to mind read, to consider the perspective or point of view of other people. The idea is to ask questions! Open-ended questions help the ADHD child learn to consider what is typical or appropriate behavior in that situation. It also provides a path to better observe the people, actions, body language, environment and social rules around the child.

The reciprocal relationship between tuning into other people’s perspective or mental state and how those people treat us in return is a game changer. ADHD children, who can’t stop arguing, and therefore tend to dominate conversations, can learn to be able to interpret and consider the feelings of others. It’s a journey, and consistency is the key. Parents should find comfort in knowing that all ADHD children benefit from patient and nurturing parents and the open-ended questions technique is well suited to parents who wish to help their children turn social struggles into positive outcomes.

Become a Social Observer

To help your child stop arguing, help him become a social spy and let him see it first hand. Social spies observe people in different settings and then record their observations about social cues including, vocal volume, tone, eye contact, physical presence, interrupting, arguing, etc.

·       Build awareness

·       Go to a public place, hotel lobby, book store, mall

·       Watch and notice the social cues

·       Identify what unspoken rules the environment dictates

·       Create an image of positive social behavior to navigate toward

The Polite Pretend

Many children with ADHD can quickly become bored inside the classroom, leading to outbursts or just checking out altogether. Some will provoke and argue with the teacher to be funny or get a reaction from friends. Rather than lecturing your child, talk with him about the problem. Start by saying, “I’ve noticed that you sometimes struggle to stop arguing with your teacher and I understand you don’t mean to be disrespectful.” Ask him what happened in the specific situation. 


Talk to him about things that do not interest him and this dilemma of being polite. Remain neutral and calmly discuss why pretending to be polite is necessary. Rather than just telling him that he has to do this, use questions to help him reflect such as:  

·        What he can do during a conversation when he feels bored or when he’s too tired to participate in the conversation?

·        What happens in the conversation when her tone becomes dismissive and argumentative?

·        What are the benefits of a polite pretend?

Reading the Room

In each environment, there are expectations and unspoken rules. To present the best face to the world, you have to decipher those expectations by reading the room. Help your child understand that how he behaves sends messages to the world, which ultimately impacts how he is received.


Any social situation is just a problem to be solved. If you build those skills, your child will have the opportunity to improve his social awareness, stop arguing, and develop better relationships with his teachers.


My new book, Why Will No One Play With Me? will teach parents how to coach their child through any social problem. Be sure to take my new checklist to determine if your child needs social skills help at


Raising the Consistently Inconsistent Kid

One day last summer, my daughter arrived for her swim meet in great spirits, as if she could tackle anything. She danced around with her friends, red-cheeked with excitement. When her group was called, she got up on the block, adjusted her goggles, and swam faster than any other six-year-old. She was in high gear, revved with self-confidence. And most importantly, she seemed to be very present. She was her best self.

But at her next swim meet the very next day, she was not interested in racing. It was raining outside, and she decided she wanted to watch Cake Boss and eat Chinese food. After I pried her away from the TV and loaded her into the car, I sensed doom. All the way to the meet, she kept telling me that the race would be canceled. When we arrived, she did not frolic with her friends as she had the day before. Her mood was ill-tempered and stormy. When I saw her take the block, I knew she was going to hold back. She finished the race, but she didn’t make very good time. Immediately afterward, she picked a fight with one of her friends, and I had to separate them.

If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, this scene probably sounds very familiar to you. For ten years, I have worked with hundreds of frustrated parents who have relayed similar experiences. Their children are erratic and inconsistent, and they don’t know how to improve or control their children’s behavior. Like these other parents, you probably understand how hard it is to raise an unpredictable child. One day your child is brilliant and confident, and the next day, your child is a raging ball of dark emotion. You never know which version of your child will be showing up to the party. Your child’s dramatic mood swings and undesirable behavior may also be causing to you to feel a wide range of emotions: anger, shame, confusion, guilt, or hopelessness. I’m here to tell you that these feelings are very common.

Many of my clients have been in the exact same position as you are right now. One thing I often tell parents of children with ADHD is this: from now on, expect the unexpected. Accept the fact that your child is going to be a consistently inconsistent child for a very long time. Go through a grieving process, if you have to, in order to move forward. Most likely, your child’s challenging behavior will arrive at the wrong moments—when you are least equipped to handle the drama. Try to come up with some coping strategies to calm yourself down when these challenging days inevitably arise.

After you have gained this knowledge and acceptance, you can begin the change process. Most inconsistent kids want to be good, but they don’t know how to be good. Ross Greene, a leading expert in child psychology, puts it this way: “Children exhibit challenging behavior when the demands being placed upon them outstrip the skills they have to respond adaptively to those demands.” In other words, when your child reacts explosively, your child lacks the skills needed to handle the situation. Inconsistent kids need help with building coping skills, seeing things from another’s perspective, and developing problem-solving strategies. These much-needed skills are called lagging skills.

One way you can identify your child’s lagging skills is by asking yourself the following question: “What is getting in the way of my child’s success?” Start by trying to figure out what the overall reasons are for your child’s inconsistency. Some kids freak out about timed events or tests. Some can’t handle peer pressure. Some don’t understand social boundaries. Some don’t know what to do when they make a mistake, and they fall apart and blow the rest of the race, recital, test, etc. Ross Greene’s lagging skills assessment can help you identify your child’s lagging skills.

The White Noise Experience: An Answer to Getting Work Done

In college, I could not work in the library. And I could not work in my dorm room. Baffled by the dilemma, I bounced from space to space, trying to find a place I could focus. Instead, I ended up wasting time and getting frustrated. In high school, I had achieved all academic milestones in front of the television. I had worked night after night with the TV on, which was hardly an ideal strategy. I now know that too much TV can actually hinder information retention. Still, something about having that background noise helped me focus, and I couldn’t find a good substitute for that study aide in college.

Flash forward a decade. At a conference I attended, I decided to try to multi-task and get some blog posts done during one of the lectures. I sat at the back of the room and wrote blog post after blog post. I was surprised by how easily the words flowed out of me. Alone in my quiet office, I struggled to write even one paragraph. But in the back of a lecture hall, I was on fire!

When I returned home from the conference, I took a moment to analyze why this environment increased my productivity. And I remembered that one of the greatest tools that helps ADHD folks increase their focus is to have a body double. A body double is someone who sits with ADHD students as they tackle tasks that may be difficult to complete on their own. For example, when I run on the treadmill, I run much faster when someone is running next to me because I don’t want the other gym member to think I’m lazy. That gym member acts as my body double. A body double serves as a motivator and reminder to help keep ADHD people on task and accountable. While no one was watching me write those blog posts in the back of the lecture hall, the mere bodily presence of others and their noise had the same effect on me. Perhaps, being in the back of the lecture hall created a noise body double.

I had seen this phenomenon work for some of my other ADHD clients as well. White noise helped them focus when nothing else worked. When I was prepping to talk about this subject on Attention Talk Radio, my co-host, Jeff Copper, said, “Oh yeah. That works for me too. I call it the white noise experience.” Now, I use Copper’s term to describe this tool I have used with my kids consistently over the last decade.

The white noise experience occurs when a person’s focus and productivity is increased by background noise. For some people, the hum of music, activity, hustle and bustle, or other background noise helps sustain their focus. Most of the students I work with are searching for the right moment, the right place, and the right mood to get work done. Driven by distractibility, they often struggle to work in study spaces in which they “should” be able to work, but they end up not being able to accomplish even basic tasks. When I suggest a non-traditional study environment with plenty of white noise to these students, they miraculously blossom.

For example, I once had a client whom we’ll call Alice. Alice was an English major, and she had difficulties getting her work done on time. By the time she came to see me, she had a month’s worth of work backlogged. She had tried all the traditional study tricks. One day, I suggested she sit in the back of a lecture hall in another department—such as calculus or chemistry—a subject that wouldn’t peak her interest. She ended up attending an engineering TA session. During one forty-five-minute session, she was able to finish two assignments, which was a huge productivity leap for her. After getting permission from the engineering department, Alice started attending TA sessions regularly, and her backlog of work quickly disappeared.

If you or your child has had similar struggles, consider using the white noise experience to help increase your focus. Try different study environments that can provide non-distracting background noise, such as coffee shops, school gyms during game time, or parks on nice days. If you find yourself too distracted in those places, try putting on some instrumental music, using a white noise machine, or plugging in a noisy fan in your bedroom or office. I know that this advice may seem counterintuitive. Most people mistakenly assume that a student or professional with ADHD should work in a quiet space without any potential distractions so they can focus wholly and completely. However, time and time again, clinical practice has shown that the ADHD brain can actually function more efficiently with white noise present. Because everyone is wired differently, this tool may not work for every person with ADHD, but I strongly urge you to test it out!

As Parents Are We Doing Enough?

A girl with a snotty tone is standing in front of me in line to a haunted hayride. She says snarky things to her friends – clearly a queen bee. She is mean in that cruel, covert, and subtle way. It’s all about the tone and how you look at the person as if the “mean girl” is gauging how mean to be while the victim prays for mercy. The mean girl’s mother is with her and does not even seem to notice, much less care to reprimand her. I’m intrigued. We can’t control everything our kids do, but we can do things to help the bullied children. Often, these kids are left out and struggling right before our eyes, and many parents are not aware of this.

People are having a lot of conversation about the bullying epidemic on social media and coffee shops these days. On the other hand, many parents are washing their hands of the problem, as if to say, “I see it going on around me, but it’s not happening in my house”. Please understand, I am not condemning parents. I am simply asking that we all do our part and try to be more aware. Mentally sign a manifesto to care about what is happening within our control. Talk to your kids about the proper way to treat people, and furthermore, model that behavior. Sit with the mom who pleases you less or maybe is even a bit boring or strange; give her a chance and you might be surprised what you learn about her. It is important we all do this, because our kids are watching.

Some things to think about:

  • Invite everyone or no one

  • Don’t send paper invitations to school

  • Talk to your child about who they interact with to better understand who might expect an invitation

  • Call out kids on mean behavior

  • Set an example of being nice to people in front of your kids – they are watching

  • Ask your child to be sensitive to other people’s feelings and show them what it looks like to be kind to someone

  • Ask your child what he or she may be thinking when someone is harsh or makes fun of them. Expect your child to model a kind tone even with kids they don’t like

We tend to worry more about academics and sports these days, but developing well-rounded, good human beings is actually one of our most important jobs as parents.

A Castle with Walls Too Thick to Penetrate

One of my clients this week told me that social life is like a castle. The walls are just too high and too thick to climb and you cannot get in unless someone lets the draw bridge down.  

So many kids feel this way. They do not know what to do – so at lunch they head for the library or to the bathroom to bide their time and hide out. Maybe you were one of these kids and you can relate to the feeling that the social world is just an insurmountable tower of terror. Kids and teenagers often share with me that they cannot figure out how to change things. They are unsure how to climb the tower walls or even cajole people to let the draw bridge down. And so they avoid social interactions all together.  

Avoidance is a sign. Not a sign that the child does not care. Or a sign that he lacks motivation, is resistant, or is just uninterested in having friends, but a sign that he does not know how to break down the barriers so he can participate, or “join in”. Without a roadmap or help with his social plan, children and teenagers often shut down.  

So I ask parents to reframe their thoughts about a child or teenager who avoids socialization. Hiding in one’s room playing video games is not always about a bad attitude. Sometimes children just do not know how to climb the walls of the castle and break in.

If you are waiting to see if things will change without help, let me share with you that they will not. The child alone does not have the skills yet to navigate this kind of change. They do not know how to enter the lunchroom and connect with their peers, and sit down and join a group. 

Good news!! When children receive guidance and are provided with specific steps on how to navigate social situations to make friends, they build new skills and often become more interested in joining in.

Madame Ruggles

Kids will have so many different teachers throughout their young academic years – all with different teaching styles, different ways they relate to each child, some in their first years of teaching, some growing close to retirement, some good, and some bad. But we’ve all heard the stories about the one teacher that made a difference, and they may not have even known it.

If you have a kid with learning differences, the teacher can really matter. They can single-handedly change how a kid feels about school. They can give your unique learner a chance to believe in themselves, which will help them build confidence and the drive to keep trying. It’s really just having someone in their court, so to speak, that’s willing to push through the tough times to prove there are brighter days ahead.

Keep in mind, there are years when the teacher may not be a good fit or even may be a disaster. I remember those years too. I remember the teachers who did not get me, but it was the few who did who made all the difference. Here’s a bird-eye view of my journey as I look back.

In the fall of my senior year of high school, I was in French 5. Let me tell you, it was not pretty. As a dyslexic, I could never remember to put accents in the right place and my spelling was – well pretty bad. This was the 1990’s, and I was told that despite my good grades that if I opted out of foreign languages, I would not get into the college of my choice. How could one French class keep me from my dream school? I thought I was doomed. I may not have been a great speller, but by the time I got to high school, I had learned not to give up! I went to my teacher, Madame Ruggles, and told her – I had to get a B – according to my college counselor.

Without batting an eye, Madame Ruggles began to meet with me every day during school. She knew I was trying so hard, but my results did not turn out the way I had hoped. I still have dreams that I fail every test and do not get that B because it was such an uphill battle.

I had this sense that she was pulling for me. Madame, like so many language teachers, insisted we speak “en Français”. That was all right with me because it was the writing that I found so difficult. So over time, I was able to show what I knew by speaking the answers as opposed to writing them. It was a struggle, but I got my B – and then promptly dropped French in college. I struggled partly to be like everyone else. I think Madame knew I was in fact not like everyone else. And she seemed to convey in a few words that this too would pass and that in life I would be able to use my talents not my weaknesses.

I recently found out that Madame Ruggles passed away. After retirements, she had moved to my town. So all this time, if I had only known, I could have gone to visit her. If I had, I would have said, “Madame, merci”.

Parents are often frustrated by many of the negative academic experiences their child has, and I completely understand. But remember, it is the few teachers who really believe in us – who help the unique learner like me reach our destination, and those are the one that will be remembered forever.

How Tweens Can Trigger Mom’s ADHD Symptoms — and How to Keep Your Cool

How many times have you been out to a restaurant for a family dinner when your tween wouldn’t put down the phone? Texting, playing games, checking to see who’s posted on Instagram — it never ends. Or maybe you’re at home and have cleaned the kitchen. You asked your child a couple of times to take out the trash and you get that look that says, “I don’t remember you asking me to do that.” You almost lose it.

Moms with ADHD have to manage their own symptoms as they try to manage their child’s behavior. Preteens and teenagers are adept at inciting our emotions and drawing us into arguments. Managing multiple schedules and disciplining children are especially taxing for moms.

Being consistent is hard, but it’s harder for moms who overreact to everyday discipline issues. Use these tips to set yourself up for success:

Be aware of your triggers. If you often lose control, look at the triggers that set you off. A trigger is an emotional reaction to something, maybe a particular situation or circumstance, that knocks you off balance. Are you hungry, tired, or did you have a long day? Are you taking on too many activities? Do you feel pressure about something? Is there a particular topic you discuss with your child that seems to provoke a reaction?

[Free Guide: When You Have ADHD, Too]

Try the following strategies to keep you focused on parenting, not on your emotions:

  • Download positive mindset apps, such as SAM: Self-Help for Anxiety Management.

  • Breathe in and out eight times, or set the timer on your phone and breathe until you feel calmer.

  • Say something to yourself that helps you regulate your anger, such as “This too shall pass.”

  • Take care of underlying needs, like hunger or stress.

Set up household policies that can help you and your spouse manage when your ADHD challenges make discipline hard. Policies should be posted for all family members to see. They might include: “There will be no more than one sleepover each week” or “Phones are parked in the kitchen and do not come out during dinner.” Each family will find a system that works best for them, but keep it simple and easy to manage:

  • Review Love and Logic (, a program to improve discipline and parenting.

  • Identify situations that affect your ability to manage. Prioritize the top three and post them in a spot where you can see them several times a day. Place a second copy in your wallet, so you can remind yourself regularly.

[“Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome” Is Very Real]

Focus on consistency in one area only. Don’t expect to be consistent with everything at once. Start with the way you approach a specific behavior you want to improve in your child — maybe your daughter is sassy or your son refuses to go to bed on time. Pick one behavior and work on it until it improves.

Collaborate with your child. This is not being permissive, but acknowledging that you have a problem with your child and are willing to work on a solution together. When you get your child’s perspective, you can often eliminate the stalemates that cause you to lose your temper.

Get support. Find your resources — a trusted girlfriend, a therapist, or a coach. Look for someone who listens and understands.

Prepare a response. Children with ADHD are champion negotiators — wearing you down, nagging, asking for privileges, treats, or answers. Have a prepared response ready for this kind of nagging. Discuss nagging with your child and listen to his response. Have this conversation when things are calmer, not in the heat of the moment. By doing this, you let the child know that you are not going to give him what he wants when he is in this state. At any time, you can let him know that you are going to pause and take a break. To minimize the back-and-forth banter:

  • Give your tween a cue, such as, “When I say thanks for the information, we need to take a break from the discussion.”

  • Suggest a replacement activity for your tween to get her off the topic she’s focused on.

[Stay Calm and Mom (or Dad) On]

Determine the seriousness of the worry. Sometimes we over-react to our child’s behavior based on societal pressures. Check in with yourself. Is this such a big deal? Why am I so worried? Could I be overreacting because of my symptoms?

  • Write down your worry. Ask yourself, “What is the size of my worry, and why this is such a big deal?”

  • Visit Social Thinking ( It has a tool called the “Size of My Problem Poster.” It features a problem “thermometer” to help you see the “size” of your problem. It is a good tool for you and your tween.

This article was originally published at ADDITUDE. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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