If your child is one of the many who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, it's likely you've seen a myriad of difficult-to-manage behaviors, including anger. Emotional regulation can be challenging for children with ADHD, and bouts of anger are common. In fact, it’s estimated that anywhere between 40–65 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD also have a condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or ODD, which includes anger as one of its symptoms. Whether your child has the two conditions together or just ADHD, knowing how to help with hard-to-control emotions is a key parenting skill.
1. Be Aware
Anger is a secondary emotion, which means it has an underlying cause. Examples include frustration, guilt, fear, worry, anxiety, loneliness, disappointment, jealousy, embarrassment and even fatigue or hunger. Sometimes, the trigger is clear, such as embarrassment caused by a sibling. Other times, the reason is not immediately obvious, as in the case of stress caused by an upcoming test at school. Teaching children to be aware of anger triggers enables them to be problem-solvers rather than victims of uncontrollable emotion.
2. Be Empathetic
When your child is escalated and angry, use empathy rather than a punishment. Lead with, “Are you ok?” rather than, “You need to stop behaving this way.” Continue with, “How can I help?” or “What do you need?” rather than a more disciplinary approach, which will create a more defensive response. Open a dialogue so your child can examine why they’re upset and consider ways in which to calm down.
3. Be Mindful
If your child is safe but too upset to talk, walk away. Resist the impulse to further engage them. Explain that you'll help when they are not as angry. Model calm behavior by avoiding the temptation to get caught up in your child’s anger.
4. Be Proactive
Take steps to prevent anger from being problematic by either stopping it where possible or teaching your child self-regulation methods. For prevention strategies, examine each cause and make changes to avoid a trigger. For example, if test stress is an issue, contact your child’s teacher to see if you can be given enough notice of upcoming tests to help your child study. Self-regulation methods to teach your child include deep breathing, exercise, journaling, drawing, talking and a self-imposed time-out to cool down.
Anger with ADHD may be probable, but it doesn’t have to be inevitable or problematic. Conversely, it can be a teachable moment for your child to learn emotional regulation skills to use throughout life.