parenting advice ADD

Advice from the School Psychologist About Kids with Social Skills Problems and Helping Kids with ADD - ADHD

Cheri King-Guler received her Master's in Educational Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has worked with students of all ages and specializes in parent interventions. Cheri was published in the Communique, the monthly newspaper for the National Association of School Psychologists. Cheri has a unique perspective on special needs children, as she has experienced the special education system as a parent as well as a psychologist. She is presently pursuing her second Master's degree in counseling psychology. In addition, Cheri writes both fiction and non-fiction for children.

Please feel free to contact me at Cheri with any questions or concerns you might have about your child that I may assist you with. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Dear Cheri,

During a recent meeting at my son's school it was mentioned that he has poor social skills. At age eight, he has no friends at school or in the neighborhood. I am very concerned and would be very grateful for any suggestions you might make to help me improve his interactions with others.

Thank You,

Joyce, Boulder, CO

Dear Joyce,

There are few things more painful for a parent than watching their child when he or she does not interact well with others. We worry about the pain and loneliness they experience when their peers do not like them. We also feel somewhat helpless about when we should intervene to improve their social skills.

However, there are several ways parents can help. One of the first steps is to seek special services at school, if possible. Generally, the school psychologist, counselor, or social worker conducts social skills groups several times a year. Determine what you need to do to enroll your son. These groups teach specific skills for many different types of social interactions, such as what to do when you first meet another child or how to approach a group activity. They also train a child to recognize nonverbal signals, which can be a key issue for kids with social skill deficits. You may also want to check with the school counselor to determine if he or she conducts any play therapy groups. These are doubly helpful because they not only teach basic social skills, but also provide the opportunity to bond with other students in the same age group. Generally, these groups can be very, very helpful.

You can also assist your child from home. It is critical that your child becomes involved in as many social activities as possible, such as cub scouts, athletics, or other clubs, in order to increase the chance he will meet another child who will like him despite his difficulty interacting with others. Joining clubs and activities will also provide your child with the opportunity to observe other children interact appropriately. Also, by allowing your child to engage in activities that they enjoy, it will give them "on-topic issues to talk about with other kids. Children with social skills deficits often cause difficult social interactions because they do not talk about what the other children are discussing, or appear actively engaged with the group.

Try to avoid conversations that allow simple one-word answers. Ask open-ended questions such as, "Tell me about your day, rather than, "Did you have a good day? This encourages your child to participate in discussions appropriately. Also, help your child to pay attention to his surroundings and other people. This will teach him to read non-verbal signals, which is a huge prerequisite for interacting well other individuals. Ways to improve your son's ability to observe the world include talking about your surroundings and asking him what he remembers or experienced. Finally, role-playing games focusing on understanding non-verbal cues and typical social interactions can be both instructional and fun for you both.

Dear Cheri,

How can I tell if my seven year-old son has Attention Deficit Disorder?


James, Chicago, IL

Dear James,

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), either with or without Hyperactivity (ADHD) is the most common neurobehavioral disorder of childhood, and some say it is over-diagnosed. There has been a great deal of concern about the significant increase in prescriptions of stimulant medications for school-age children in the last decade. However, proper evaluation drastically decreases inappropriate medical treatment.

Core symptoms of ADHD include impulsivity, inattention, and hyperactivity. Typically, children with this disorder have significant difficulties in the school setting, including behavioral and academic problems, difficulties in interpersonal relationships and low self-esteem. ADHD is commonly associated with other disabilities such as oppositional defiant disorder; anxiety and depression; conduct disorder; and learning disabilities or speech impairments.

The first step in determining whether or not your son may have ADHD is to evaluate how he is performing in both the home and academic settings. If you and your child's teacher notice that he seems to have significant difficulty with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in both environments, the next step is to speak with the school psychologist about a formal assessment. Your child's school psychologist should conduct a thorough evaluation including classroom observations and interpretation of formal assessment questionnaires completed by individuals in the academic and home environment. With this information, it is possible to make a judgment about the core symptoms of ADHD and the degree it may interfere with your child's life. However, it is important to note that final diagnosis of ADHD must be done by your family physician or psychiatrist--only they can provide prescription medications if you decide to treat your child with them

Once the presence of ADHD is determined, it is up to you to decide what treatment approach you feel would be best for your child. Most parents of children with ADHD choose to try medical treatment paired with behavioral interventions, and this is very effective. However, you do have options parenting a child with ADHD, for example, I strongly suggest that you consider making environmental and behavioral changes before giving your son medication. It is possible to treat ADHD by highly structuring your child's day and schedule, changing his diet, and designing a behavioral modification program if his symptoms are not severe. Once you determine these initial changes are not effective, you may need to seek treatment with one of the many medications that are available to the public. However, if you do so, make sure that you consistently evaluate the medication's effectiveness. Frequently dosages or brands of medication need to be changed, so it is important that you monitor your child carefully.

Finally, I would like to make one suggestion. When working with parents during an ADHD evaluation, I strongly encourage them to answer a simple question before beginning the time-intensive steps of assessment. This question is, does your child behave the way he does because he cannot control his behavior or because he will not control it? If your child is, in fact, in control of his behavior, you may be facing a conduct problem rather than a genuine case of ADHD.

In this column, I hope to provide parents with information and suggestions to assist in raising happy and healthy children. I plan to offer ideas for intervening when your child experiences difficulties, whether they are academic, social, or emotional. However, I wish to clarify that I am merely offering suggestions, based upon my own professional training and experience. It is always advisable to consult with professionals at your children's schools for additional assistance.

It is my sincere hope that I may provide information in this column that will improve the quality of life for your family.

Best wishes always,

Cheri King-Guler, M.S.