For children with ADHD, assigning words to emotions is especially challenging.
First, I heard Natalie’s teachers say it. Then, it was Gayle, our in-home therapist. Now, I find myself saying it, often several times a day.
For all children, learning to assign words to feelings is an important step in development. For children with ADHD, it seems to be especially important, and especially challenging.
Why should our children use their words? Identifying how we feel--emotionally and physically--is a prerequisite for choosing how to handle our feelings. Here’s a Natalie example. Nat has always totally and completely fallen apart when hungry. She doesn’t just get crabby, she gets--or at least used to get--physically out of control. Whether this stems from that horrible low-blood sugar feeling, or her history of malnutrition and hunger in the orphanage, I’ll probably never know. But, no matter where it comes from, it’s nasty and dangerous, and I try to keep it from happening whenever humanly possible.
I worked for several years on helping Natalie identify and put words to what she was going through when hunger hit, and of course, encouraged her to eat in order to handle it.
Identifying emotions, especially anger, was the next big challenge. Gayle employed a whole bag of tricks to help with this one. Nat made half a dozen bracelets with beads spelling out different feelings, and choose the appropriate one to match the moment. She made a similar set of door hangers for her bedroom. She used puppets; drew pictures of faces. Over time, this skill has really started sinking in. She’s becoming an emotions-master.
Now, more often than not, instead of saying, “Use your words!” I say, “Natalie, excellent job using your words! You let me know that you’re feeling hungry! Let me help you find a snack!”
There are still times when this technique isn’t enough. Simply expressing that she feels angry, for example, doesn’t necessarily dispel the feeling. So, we’re working on developing an arsenal of options for releasing anger safely and appropriately.
Nat tried going to the basement and bouncing an exercise ball against the concrete wall, screaming, “This is how angry I am!” with every throw. She burst the ball. Time to get a new one.
I had her tear up an old phone book one time. That segued into more of a craft project, but since she calmed down in the process, I’d say it did the trick.
I’ve tried suggesting doing jumping jacks, jumping on the trampoline, or doing sit-ups. She prefers shoving furniture across the room or tipping it over.
Does your child with ADHD use her words? Does putting a name to a feeling help manage that feeling? What other strategies help dissipate strong feelings, like anger?