My child with ADHD has lots of friends but is still lonely. What’s going on?

By Kristin J. Carothers, PhD

Can kids with ADHD be social and also feel lonely?, kids hanging out

Q: My 12-year-old son with ADHD has no trouble making or keeping friends. He’s very social, but he often says he’s lonely. Why would that be?

A: This is a common situation that isn’t unique to kids with ADHD. But ADHD can definitely make it more complicated.

Some children with ADHD struggle with social skills and friendships, so it’s good to know your son has no trouble making friends and keeping them. Still, kids with differences like ADHD — even those who seem like “the life of the party” — can feel lonely or isolated even when other people are around.

Kids with ADHD often feel emotions more intensely than other kids. That includes emotions like hopelessness, worthlessness, or unexplained sadness. They can also have a harder time letting go of these feelings than other kids would.

Keep in mind, too, that being with people isn’t the same as feeling connected to them. Even though your son has friends, he might not believe they understand him, his feelings, or how his brain works. That may make him keep his emotions to himself, making him feel more isolated. 

It can be hard for parents to hear that their child feels lonely. But there are things you can do to try to get kids to open up and feel less alone.

Start by asking your child questions about the quality of his relationships. (Some kids really don’t want to talk, though. In that case, it’s important not to push it.)

For example, you could ask him who are the friends that make him feel the most comfortable. Or if there are times when he feels misunderstood by his friends or feels different from them.

You could also ask about the times when he feels most lonely. Find out what happens before he feels that way and after. Having information about the timing, situation, and people involved can give you a better idea of what he means when he says he’s lonely even though he’s social and has friends.

Once you understand more, you can suggest ways for him to spend time with kids who are supportive of him. You can also help him find peers who share his interests so they can build bonds around that.

If your child’s feelings of loneliness seem to continue or grow, you might want to talk with a therapist or counselor. Together you can come up with a plan.


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    About the author

    About the author

    Kristin J. Carothers, PhD is a clinical child psychologist devoted to the destigmatization of mental health problems.