ADHD: Understanding social differences between boys and girls

Cathi Cohen, LCSW

For the child with ADHD, there are many common characteristics in both sexes but they surface and get played out quite differently between boys and girls. In addition, male and female peers react to these characteristics disparately as well. Generally, there is a bit more social rope given to boys than to girls. After all, the “boys will be boys” philosophy espouses that boys are impulsive by nature. Society may turn a blind eye to boys that resolve differences through fighting, for instance. Blurting out by boys as well as verbal sparring is quite common, perhaps even condoned, lending some protection to the impulsive boy with ADHD. When a boy with ADHD is very athletic, physically powerful, for instance, he may be able to compensate for his social weaknesses with his physical strengths.

Girls, on the other hand, are generally socialized to be a part of their peer group. Physical prowess is not deemed as important; social savvy is highly stressed, thus the unique social challenges of girls with ADHD are met with more rigidity and rejection than that of their male counterpart. If a girl stands out in a negative way from her peers, especially when these ways are not in keeping with sex role stereotypes, she will most certainly be excluded, if not down right rejected by her female peers. Less leeway is given to the verbally or physically impulsive girl with ADHD.

Once your child has earned a negative social reputation, it is quite difficult to help him undo the damage. It can be accomplished, but the work is slow. It is up to you, as the parent, to understand fully what may have contributed to your child’s poor social reputation. This alone can be a very heartbreaking chore. No parent wants to see that their child’s behavior may be contributing to their social standing. Unfortunately, no change can take place until you can fully appreciate the behaviors your child exhibits that turn other children off.