Rejection Hurts – But for Kids, Can it Make AD/HD Symptoms Worse?

Can rejection make AD/HD symptoms worse?




Do any of these adjectives sound like a child you know?


If you know a child with AD/HD, you’ve experienced these behaviors first hand. You’ve likely also noticed the difficulties these kids often have with peers. Kids who are impulsive, distracted and hyperactive just tend to have a harder time relating to others. Sadly, even the research attests to the notion that children with AD/HD get rejected more often than other children (Mrug et al., 2012). But can kids without the actual disorder show AD/HD symptoms and also have problems with peers because of them?



The symptoms that make up AD/HD are not confined to the children with the actual diagnosis. Children without a diagnosis of AD/HD can also show signs of distractibility, uncontrolled behavior, difficulties sitting still, problems with judgment, acting without thinking, etc. Behaviors such as these in children (even without a diagnosis) can cause problems with peers.

However, a recent study addressed whether these AD/HD type symptoms can influence peers to reject these kids (Stenseng et al., 2016). Stenseng’s group followed 600 children in Norway (most of whom originated from the USA or another Western nation) from age 4 to age 8. Teachers and parents reported about the presence of AD/HD type symptoms and peer rejection in the lives of their children. Over the course of the four-year period, the researchers found some interesting results.



The authors found a pattern of interaction between peer rejection and AD/HD symptoms over time.

Peer Rejection and ADHD Interaction


  • Children with more AD/HD symptoms experienced more peer rejection.
  • Early peer rejection was related to more AD/HD symptoms as kids grew.
  • Early AD/HD symptoms meant more peer rejection at age 6.


Simply put… kids often reject hyperactive, impulsive and distractible peers. Unfortunately, peer rejection influences these behaviors in some way, increasing them.

Why does peer rejection seem to have such an influence on the development of uncontrolled behavior? It may be that difficult peer interactions in preschool erode self-control. When a child is rejected socially, the bulk of their coping may involve trying to manage their fear, anxiety, anger, etc. This may come at the cost of depleting their ability to manage their own behavior. Over time, as peer rejection continues or worsens, coping skills may also worsen – presenting itself as AD/HD type symptoms.

Tweet this: Peer rejection in preschool may erode self-control, leading to AD/HD type symptoms in elementary school.





Parent awareness is key. Pay attention to your young child’s interactions with other kids. Is your child teased often? Do other children refuse to play with him? Does she get into arguments or conflicts with kids at the park, at preschool or in other environments?

If you notice harsh and rejecting peer interactions, you can intervene and model how to best solve the problem. However, there will be times when you won’t be present to help out. So, what can you do? You can teach your child healthy coping mechanisms so they can manage these difficult interactions on their own. John Gottman (1998) provides excellent ideas in his approach to healthy parenting that he calls being an Emotion Coach:

Validate feelings

When your child has a problem with a friend, listen actively–paraphrasing your child’s problem. Help the child label his emotions. Provide feelings words without telling her what she ought to feel. When children understand their own feelings, they are better able to manage and cope with them.

Set limits on behavior

If a conflict arises with a peer, make appropriate behavior clear to your child. Feelings are not a problem, misbehavior is. Structure and limits provide much wanted boundaries for children. When interacting with rejecting or harsh peers, your child needs to know which behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable.

Problem solve

Encourage your child to stop, take some time out and think through the problem. Remind her of past successes when dealing with similar problems–she may find old ideas that can work in a new situation. List possible solutions together. Review the list and help him evaluate the possible solutions, choose one & follow through.

Basic problem solving and emotion management skills such as these can go a long way in helping children deal with peer rejection and improve peer relationships.

A Christian Perspective

A Biblical view of relationships emphasizes the fact that we were made to be in relationship. God himself is relational. The simple fact that “God is love” (John 4:16) is evidence of his relationality because love is only experienced within relationship. The New Testament regularly attests to the fact that Christians are meant to “love one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” “pray for one another,” etc. According to some (I haven’t personally counted them), there are 59 “one another” verses in the New Testament alone.

The Old Testament also speaks to how we are meant to relate. In particular, the book of Proverbs gives wisdom on how to relate to both friends and enemies. For example: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17) and “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles” (Prov. 24:17).

With the relational nature of people, it is clear that we can have both healthy and unhealthy relationships and that we can be negatively impacted when relationships go wrong. The fact that peer rejection can have a detrimental influence on child behavior, therefore, isn’t surprising. However, it also should not be surprising that healthy relationships can build confidence and strength in these children. Whether these relationships come in the form of an encouraging adults or one close friend, there is hope for children who experience early peer rejection. We are not commanded to do all of the above without a purpose. Our relationships with others are not only meant to build us up, they are meant to heal us and spur us on toward godliness. (Click here to visit my Bible Study Blog)

Until next time – Veola

Limits of the study:

  • Remember, the majority of the children studied did not have AD/HD just AD/HD symptoms.
  • The experience of peer rejection was based upon teacher reports, not on the report of the children involved.
  • The study was conducted in Norway with Western families – this may not be generalizable to other cultures.

References and Further Reading:

Gottman, J. & Declaire, J. (1998). Raising an emotionally intelligent child: The heart of parenting. New York. Simon & Schuster

Mrug, S., Molina, B., Hoza, B., Gerdes, A., Hinshaw, S., Hechtman, L., & Arnold, L. (2012). Peer Rejection and Friendships in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Contributions to Long-Term Outcomes. Journal Of Abnormal Child Psychology40(6), 1013-1026. doi:10.1007/s10802-012-9610-2

Stenseng, F., Belsky, J., Skalicka, V., Wichstrøm, L., & Wichstrøm, L. (2016). Peer rejection and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms: Reciprocal relations through Ages 4, 6, and 8. Child Development87(2), 365-373. doi:10.1111/cdev.12471

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