If you are the parent of an ADHD child, then odds are very high that you have faced challenging situations involving your child’s expression of intense anger. Maybe you face this challenge daily. And perhaps you are left to wonder how so much intense and volatile emotion can reside in such a small package. If this is an issue that you face on regular basis, read on for some tips on how to handle an angry ADHD child.
WHY SEEING PROBLEMATIC OUTBURSTS?
One of the key ADHD facts to know when parenting ADHD kids is that they struggle with emotion regulation and impulsivity. And, once the anger train has left the station, they have a more difficult time in trying to call it back or to steer it into a positive, productive direction. And, impulsivity combined with a lack of maturity means that volatile emotions are more readily expressed without any filter.
STRATEGIES FOR PARENTAL CALM
No matter who you consult or what resources you research, the initial advice always starts pretty much the same. In these situations it is important that you, the parent, remain calm. Adding your big feelings to the big feelings of your angry ADHD child just escalates things to a huger problem.
This post from copingskillsforkids.com, How to Help Your Angry Child, features nine tips from a child therapist. It is not specifically directed at parents of ADHD children, yet the advice given has wide applicability. This piece provides some good concrete strategies for maintaining or restoring parental calm. The type of concrete and practical suggestions that are often missing from the blanket advice to parents to “stay calm.”
It has suggestions for for several strategies, beyond deep breathing, that may resonate more with some parents. For instance, I liked the suggestion of doing a counting exercise that paired letters of the alphabet with numbers because it is simple and easy to remember.
Another related strategy that I have used is to sing the ABC song in my head. Repeatedly. Over and over again. It helps me stay calm as the little tornado rages around me.
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WHAT PARENTS SHOULD AVOID DOING WITH AN ANGRY ADHD CHILD
Sometimes our natural responses to an angry episode can be exactly the wrong thing to do. Here are two helpful articles from child psychologists that provide parental cautions on things to avoid doing. While the basic cautions overlap considerably, the approach and explanations vary in helpful ways that may resonate better with different families dealing with an angry ADHD child.
One caution that particularly got my attention was her third point about failing to listen to your child.
“Your child’s feelings are no less valid than any other person’s, even if he sometimes acts “out of control.” Don’t get so busy trying to control your child’s outbursts that you forget this fact and end up silencing your child. After all, his thoughts, feelings, and observations can provide valuable insight into what drives his anger—and who he is as a person. “
You can also find inspiration in this article from Empowering Parents:
TOP STRATEGIES FOR RESTORING CALM TO YOUR ANGRY ADHD CHILD
What Can You Say?
When you are thick in the middle of an explosive situation with your angry ADHD child, you would like to have some “go to” strategies in your tool box that you can reach for quickly. One strategy that you can practice in advance is having two or three things that you practice saying so that they come naturally in the moment.
This article has 26 ideas for things you could consider saying: 26 phrases to calm your angry child.
My favorite two from the article are:
- What can we do to make this food yummy?
- What can we do to be ready to leave on time?
And, you can find another great resource from Lemon Lime Adventures at 13 Powerful Phrases Proven To Calm An Angry Child.
What Can You Do?
In addition to some reliable verbal cues, you can also have one or two actions mentally lined up to fall back on to help defuse explosive situations. These could be things that you can reflexively do to help you maintain calm.
For instance, taking 3, 5, 7 or more deep breaths before speaking. Having a resonating mantra that you can repeat in your head. Or, a simple song.
And, don’t underestimate the power of a hug.
For additional action-oriented strategies, check out How To Respond When Your Child Gets Raging Mad at Messy Motherhood.
PREVENTING/MINIMIZING OUTBURSTS WITH YOUR ANGRY ADHD CHILD
For best results, you’re going to need actual data on what’s going on to devise an effective plan, strategy or tool kit for avoiding or minimizing angry outbursts. Don’t fall into the trap of relying on your memory of what your child’s potential triggers are. Make a plan to keep notes for a specified number of days, and make a record of what’s happening. This period of observation could be focused primarily at home – evenings/weekends as an initial matter. Or, if your child has problems with angry outbursts at school, then you could enlist his or her teacher to assist with keeping track for a few days. This record can provide you with important insights. And, it can help you when consulting with professionals or other parties.
Basically, you want to track when the outburst occurred, what happened immediately before the episode, and what was the result or consequence of the episode. And, you should also make a note of the intensity if this varies (i.e., a fit of yelling and crying vs. throwing things or other destructive behavior). This will help you see what patterns may be taking place that are not necessarily obvious.
What helpful information could be gleaned from this exercise? You could discover that there are certain events or states that tend to trigger outbursts – like being hungry, overly tired, engaging in certain over stimulating activities. Or, after unhappy transitions – when stopping fun activity. You may also discover some unintended patterns have developed. Like when he erupts into tears and yelling with caregiver A, he often ends up getting something he wants or a desirable substitute. In other words, you may discover that certain results are happening that are actually reinforcing the negative behavior when you didn’t realize it.
You should also consider that unaddressed sensory issues may be playing a role.
Teaching ADHD Kids To Manage Their Own Anger
When researching effective strategies form managing an angry ADHD child, some recommendations pop up repeatedly. These are ones that seem particularly easy to implement:
- Daily rigorous exercise
- Martial arts
- Limiting access to aggressive and/or violent television, video games and other media
But, one of the best long-term strategies for managing your angry ADHD child is helping him develop his own techniques for managing anger.
This article, Anger Is Important — But Only When It’s Managed, explains ten strategies that families can use to help teach kids how to manage their own anger.
In some circumstances, it may be necessary to enlist professional help to assist with managing anger. This could involve traditional one-on-one therapy with the child. Or, some families may find a structured behavioral therapy program beneficial. For instance, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy which involves realtime parental coaching from a trained profession. Or, Parent Management Training, which is also a parent centered program.
This article from the Child Mind Institute provides a good overview of these types of options.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER AN OUTBURST?
After the storm is over and everyone has had time to embrace the calm, have some sort of a debrief period. A period when both you and your child can reflect together on what happened and plan strategies for the future.
One strategy that may be particularly helpful with younger children is to sit together and read a relevant book. Use the story told in the book as a jumping off point for discussing what happened in real life.
These are books that have been particularly useful in our household:
Sometimes I’m Bombaloo, by Rachel Vail
Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee MacLean
IS IT MORE THAN ADHD?
Something else to keep in mind and investigate is whether there are other factors besides ADHD that are exacerbating your child’s emotional outburst. A frequently occuring culprit could be Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
ODD is a condition that frequently presents with ADHD. And, when it does, it may require different strategies than what’s typically recommended for an ADHD-only child. This article provides more information. Why Is My Child So Angry?!
Children with ODD have a marked pattern of angry, violent and/or disruptive behavior toward authority figures, including their parents and caregivers. Defiance will start with primary caregivers and may then spread to other secondary authority figures. Behaviors can include short tempered, argumentative, hostile and resentful, actively seeking to agitate and annoy others. ODD behaviors can have a particularly debilitating effect on family relationships, so it is important to identify and address it early.
OTHER FACTORS THAT COULD BE MAGNIFYING ANGER
Finally, even though angry outburst often follow an ADHD child, you should consider whether there are other factors that are making the situation worse than it has to be.
For example, if your child takes medication for ADHD, you should investigate the possibility of medication related issues. It could be that the medication is wearing off, and you need a bridging strategy in place. Or, it could be an actual side effect of current medication. You should raise any suspicions and concerns with your prescriber.
Intense anger can also be a manifestation of depression, anxiety and frustration with ongoing learning differences. And, sensory processing issues can also result in angry outbursts. Atypical reactions to the surrounding environment can trigger intense negative emotions. Such as being uncomfortable in “scratch” clothes that don’t feel right. Or, being aggravated by external lights, noises.
An initial step in making a plan to manage your angry ADHD child should be making sure that you can consistently maintain or quickly regain your own calm first. And, you should plan to keep a record of what’s actually happening when angry episodes occurred as this may help you in planning an effective strategy. Finally, any plan for managing your child’s anger should include taking time after the dust has settled to reflect on what happened and strategize with your child for the future. This can help your child develop his or her own long-term strategies for personally managing anger.