By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, children throughout the country have experienced feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Kids with ADHD, many of whom often struggle socially under normal circumstances, have had even more difficulty maintaining friendships or meaningful connections with classmates and peers throughout the pandemic. For these children, loneliness has contributed to anxiety, depression, and/or low motivation that has negatively affected family relationships, academic performance, and overall wellbeing.

As more and more schools return to in-person learning and extracurricular activities begin to resume, opportunities for spending time with other kids are increasing. While this slow return to ‘normal’ will be essential for combatting loneliness, many kids with ADHD will need extra support to truly reconnect with classmates and friends.  

The pandemic has affected everyone in unique ways, but for kids with ADHD whose social skills lag behind those of their peers, the pandemic may have further widened the skills gap, which will make it even more challenging for them to keep up as social activities return to normal. This may mean that they will have a more difficult time reading social cues, initiating conversations with other kids, or joining ongoing activities or conversations in a way that isn’t seen as either too passive or too intrusive. Kids who struggle with depression or anxiety in addition to ADHD may find that they don’t feel motivated to seek out other kids or enjoy the time they spend in social situations.

As a parent, it can be incredibly hard to see your child struggling in their friendships. Fortunately, when you are aware of your child’s struggles, you can plan ahead and provide the support, structure, and opportunities that will help them succeed.

  • If your child is showing signs of anxiety or depression, get treatment as soon as possible from a therapist who provides evidence-based treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Likewise, if you think your child’s ADHD is severely interfering with their ability to make or maintain friendships, then seek out a therapist who specializes in ADHD and/or social skills.
  • Enroll your child in structured extracurricular activities. Kids with ADHD need structure in order to successfully navigate social situations and connect with their peers. Extracurricular activities not only provide this structure, they also provide an opportunity for kids with ADHD to develop their talents while connecting with other kids who share their passions and interests.
  • Start with online options if it’s not yet safe for your child to start participating in in-person activities. These online activities might not be quite as engaging or potent as their face-to-face counterparts, but they will still provide opportunities for engaging with other kids virtually and for pursuing interests outside of school. There are many options available online.
  • If your child is not receptive to a parent’s suggestions related to friends or social activities, then consider having your child work with a counselor at school or a therapist outside of school. Often, older kids are more willing to try new social activities when someone other than a parent is guiding them through the process.
  • When thinking about your child’s friendships, focus on quality over quantity. Having one or two close friends is all it takes for many kids to have the social life that they need. A bigger social circle can be great too, but not at the expense of having a close friend who your child truly connects with.
  • Encourage your child to schedule one-on-one activities with kids they would like to reconnect with, or kids they would like to form new friendships with. For elementary and younger middle school kids, this will likely mean that you as a parent will need to be very involved in initiating and planning the activity or play date. For older children, this will mean helping them figure out when, where, and how the activity will occur, and the steps they should take to invite their friend to join them. And if it seems like your child might not welcome your help, then this could be a good time to involve a therapist or other trusted adult in the process.

As the pandemic slowly winds down and in-person activities begin to resume, kids with ADHD will need extra support from parents and teachers to fully reengage in social activities and reconnect with friends and classmates. Fortunately, with the right support and structure in place, kids with ADHD can succeed socially and form the strong friendship bonds that they deserve.



Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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