Sometimes it seems as if children who have ADHD can't get enough out of life — no matter how much they're given. This is especially true for youngsters with the hyperactive form of ADHD, which can trigger violent reactions even to minor letdowns.
One child I worked with blew up at the teacher when a little rain delayed school recess. Another wept inconsolably after being told he wouldn't be able to stop for ice cream after a fun-filled day.
When an ADHD child overreacts to disappointment, parents must avoid overreacting themselves. In time, even the most volatile children can learn to rein in the anger and frustration their disappointment triggers. In the meantime, here are eight things parents and caregivers can do to help a child cope with disappointment.
1. Discuss potential letdowns in advance
If your child realizes that disappointment may lie in store, she'll be able to plan how to react. For example, as you drive to the mall, you might say, "Last time we tried to find that game you wanted, the store was all out. I remember how disappointed you were and how upset you got. What will we do if you are disappointed today?"
2. Give others a heads-up
If you're concerned that your child's overreaction to disappointment might spoil a school outing, play date, birthday party, sporting event, or another group activity, consider giving the teacher or other adult in control a heads-up. You might say, "Sometimes my child becomes extremely upset when things don't go his way. When that happens, a few kind words can usually calm him down. If this happens a lot, please let me know, so that I can talk to him at home."
If the problem persists, a parent-teacher meeting may be needed to review more effective solutions.
3. Acknowledge your child's disappointment
Let him know that you can see he is disappointed, and that you understand why he feels that way. This shows him that you understand him and that you are there to help him through the problem.
4. Ask your child how upset he feels
By having him reflect on the intensity of his disappointment, you're helping him learn to understand his emotions and control his behavior. And knowing how upset your child feels helps you determine whether it's necessary to intervene in order to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.
Imagine that nine-year-old Jim is attending a football game with his father. During the first quarter, Jim asks for a team jersey and is disappointed when his dad says he'll buy one only after the game. If Jim feels only a little upset, a few soothing words from his father should be enough to prevent a meltdown. But if Jim feels so upset that he wouldn't be able to enjoy the game, buying the jersey right away might be the better choice.