Nine year old-Not making friends.

I have a 9 yr old boy, in the fourth grade, private school who has ADHD-inattentive features. This year has been very rough. Kids in his class exclude him from activities, he gets picked last for teams and does not have any friends. The few friends he had in past don't want to play with him. When I ask why he doesn't have friends he says he doesn't know why or brings up something that happened in the third grade. I've observed on the playground during yard duty that he eats alone and does not play with other kids. The exclusion and isolation seem to have gotten worse prior to Christmas break. When I dropped him off during recess (January 2024) he didn't want to get out of the car and play with the other kids. He dropped his bag off at the office, walked outside and put his head down and walked to the stadium stairs. This is so heartbreaking. I feel awful. I have some appointments lined up at Kaiser but not terribly hopeful. 

I don't understand why he is being excluded. I asked one of the kids mom if he did something to make her son not like him. She said that once he got overly upset about something minor and it scared him. I spoke with his teacher and principal and they are going to observe. I've put him in sports but he seems not to like that either. He likes swimming and roller skating.  Again, I feel awful any suggestions or guidance would help. Please no shameful or mean comments. 



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I'm sorry, this sounds bad. I am a little concerned about the quality of the school environment if the teacher was not aware of this prior to your raising it. My main thought is to keep pursuing social activities outside of school, and look into a change of school as a fresh start for next year. He may be in such a small school that the pool of potential friends is very small, and one misstep follows you for life. In the meantime, be his friend - that is, you or his dad make a point of doing something fun, playing to his interests/strengths, every weekend so he keeps a spark of joy alive.

I'm so sorry your son is going through this. My son (also ADHD) started having this same experience in fourth grade and it got much worse in fifth. Nobody was bullying him—they all just ignored him and left him out. I think ADHD made it very difficult for him to read social cues which caused the other kids to find him off-putting and strange. My son never understood why he was being left out and it took him all the way until his junior year of high school before he started to make some friends. He's still not great at it but better enough that he has a group to hang out with now and has enough confidence and resiliency to keep working at social skills.

We got through the very difficult late-elementary and middle school years by not pushing him to eat with the other kids or play games with them at recess (because that just made him feel worse). He spent those years eating lunch in the library and spending recess in the classroom helping the teachers out with things. Not ideal of course, but better than sitting alone and miserable on a playground bench.

Hang in there. He will most likely figure things out a bit as he gets older.

Oh mama, I'm so sorry - I understand how sad this feels. And to think you are paying private school tuition on top of it all! Agree that it is surprising the school is not more observant/involved. If it were my kid, I'd change schools at the end of this school year. 4th/5th grade is no joke, kids are not 'little' any more and stuff that happens now starts to really shape them up to and through middle school. I also echo that finding a tribe for him will really help. If he likes swimming how about getting him on a swim team? Or if it's roller skating is there a group he can join? Having a separate place (other than school) where he feels happy and welcome is really key in a situation like this - scouting, volunteer groups, anything that is other than school where he can feel he fits will make a huge difference, but again, I'd look for a new school environment. Good luck to you!!

I'm so sorry to hear. It is so heartbreaking to see your child have trouble at school and with friendship. I strongly recommend that you consider switching schools. When you mentioned that he is picked last for sports, I immediately thought this isn't a school culture that is inclusive. Our child goes to a small progressive private school in Oakland, and PE and sports are cooperative rather than competitive. They don't do team member picking, and everyone goes out of their way to be inclusive. In fact, if kids try to exclude a kid from their activities, teachers would jump in and address that immediately. The school culture is very important for kids that need social support.

Teachers and administrators should be working hard to work with you and your child, if there's a social issue like this. Many kids change school in 4th and 5th grades, so don't worry about joining schools in the upper grades.

In terms of sports, if he likes swimming, how about a swim team? Swimming is incredibly calming and therapeutic. Does he like to sing, act, or arts? Singing is also very helpful for ADHD and anxiety. Pacific Boy Choir Academy has after school programs, and it's a very supportive environment. Our child does the after school choir program there and have made sweet friends. 

Consider switching him to a public school. There will be more tolerance, less cliquishness, and more different kids he might fit in with. And I think the teachers and staff will be more aware of these dynamics. A public school will also have to accommodate his ADHD and may have more resources for this than a small private school. Also, swimming and roller skating are great activities, look for a team or group activity outside of school like swim team, synchronized swimming, water hockey, water polo... In terms of Kaiser, they may have a social skills group for his age.

I am a retired public elementary school teacher.  We had school wide programs to help students develop social skills and resolve disagreements with peers. A child with a physical disability or a child who was socially isolated would be paired up with a "buddy" to support them at recess.  In the classroom, small groups worked together in science projects and in other subject areas, so students interacted with each other developing social and cooperative work skills.  You are right to be proactive about your son's situation, which is so damaging to his self-concept.  In public schools, a parent may request in writing a Student Study Team meeting which includes the principal, learning resource specialists, classroom teacher and parent to discuss student problems, both academic and emotional.  I hope your son's private school has a process like this in place. In public schools, the clock starts with the submission of the request, the meeting must occur within a certain time frame.  Public school resource teachers also serve private school students.

This article may be helpful:…;

This sounds exactly like what I went through - just a couple of years later than he is. At this age crowd-mentality and cliquiness sets in. Boys won't play with someone who could harm their social status. In my case as well, I had some ADHD-inattentive features and I did get overly upset about minor things. I feel in hindsight that the issue was that I was a highly-sensitive-person. Toxic masculine traits that some of the other boys displayed affected me and that made me the target of bullying first and ostracisation later. On the occasions that I did try being toxic to "fit in" it didn't work and just marked me as a weirdo. I would recommend therapy. Being able to tell the difference between what might have been meant as a joke and what was genuinely hurtful is something I learnt in high school and also figuring a measured response to something that was genuinely hurtful will certainly help. I think the best way here is for your son to figure it out with his friends on his own without the parents getting overly involved. In my case my mom did get involved (at my request I might add) and it did not end well for me. It's important that your son realizes that his feelings are valid. He has every right to feel bad about something someone said to him. What he could work on might be better coping strategies when those feelings come up. Hang in there - it gets better as boys grow older, especially nowadays with so much information out there about bullying and toxicity.

My son with ADHD had a similarly hard time making friends in elementary school.

Some things we did:

-Joined Cub Scouts which was a great way for him to see the same kids doing a variety of activities several times/month until 5th grade. 

- I made 1:1 play dates for him with the most accepting, tolerant and kind kid in his class.  Unfortunately, this particular kid was understandably very popular so to get a toe in the door I schmoozed his Mom at every school-related event that I saw her in and before and after playdates so that she would have a harder time saying "no" if I called to ask her for a playdate.  She has since become a dear friend.  And that kid and my son, now in college, are STILL great friends

- Before one of these 1:1 playdates I would sit with my kid and do some role-playing about sharing, taking turns, and managing emotions.  It seemed to help during the actual playdate. 

- Once my ADHD kid started taking medication in 4th grade, the medications tamped down his hyperactivity which was off-putting to peers and his relationships with other kids got much better. 

- AND I would second the prior poster in questioning what kind of oversight the Administration is providing at the school your son is in and considering transferring next year. 

My daughter (now 18) has inattentive-type ADHD.  After nearly flunking 1st grade, she went on stimulant medication at the beginning of 2nd grade.  The meds were a godsend, not just academically but socially.  As her doctor said, it's not just about school, but also life.  She doesn't like the meds (nor do other kids we know), and doesn't take them on weekends or vacations, but she is profoundly grateful for them.

Reason: inattentive kids do seem weird because they are off in their own worlds and can't get back to the "real" one.  My daughter says she'd get caught up studying a bit of dust on the floor or daydreaming ("watching movies in my head"), totally unaware of what was going on around her.  I witnessed this at home.  On the playground, if she was talking to another kid, she might stop talking abruptly because her attention got caught by an idea or an object, such that the other person simply disappeared for her.  I can't imagine what a hell most sports would be for your son, spacing out after a few moments of no action, then of course never catching that ball and the rest of the team hating him for it.

(What my kid experiences is pretty well described here: 

She got in trouble a lot with teachers for inattention and impulsive behaviors.  This led her to avoid social contacts that might lead to trouble, such as talking in class.  The meds allowed her to pay attention to her environment, including other people, and monitor her own behavior.  My daughter just leaned over my shoulder to read this, and adds that the meds also help her be motivated for tasks like homework.

I'm writing this because your post doesn't mention any treatment.  I know a lot of parents are reluctant to medicate their kids.  A common worry is that prescribed medication may lead to a drug problem later.  The evidence indicates, however, that failing to treat ADHD is more likely to lead to substance abuse, because the person with ADHD may seek relief through self-medication (eg., We also have Kaiser, and didn't have any trouble getting once our daughter was diagnosed.  If you're uncomfortable with stimulants, there are nonstimulant medications, and if you're prepared for what's involved, behavioral-modification treatment.  The research indicates that stimulant medication is the most effective stand-alone treatment.

I agree with the replies suggesting that you change schools.  Obviously the one you're in isn't helping much, and private schools have no obligation to do so, though some are better than others.  Our daughter was in private school until 9th grade, and the school did OK regarding ADHD (specifically, she got accommodations and was never bullied).  She says, based on her experiences at Berkeley High, that the Berkeley public schools would probably do as well or better.  Maybe more important, changing schools would allow your son to escape the fixed opinions that seem to have formed at his current school.

I just want to chime in to ask if your school has a counselor for ADHD kids or a special teacher who can assist with resources.  In contrast, our school reached out to me and provided assistance and it made a great difference.  We had someone who would address the inattentiveness and ladder cues to turn in paperwork.  Eventually, the timers and post-its and the whiteboard reminders at home worked.  It is a process and it is hard to watch.  We had a great struggle until his executive functioning started to kick in and then, it was not perfect but better.  If you would like to talk, you can ask the moderator for my email.  Hang in there.