Published on ADDitudeMag.com

Emotional Control Strategies for ADHD Kids

When ADHD kids practice controlling their emotions and impulsive outbursts, they will be healthier and happier at school and at home. Here's how parents can help.

by the editors of ADDitude

Emotional Control

Controlling emotions, or emotional control, is the ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals, complete tasks, or direct behavior. Some kids with attention deficit handle their emotions just fine, others don’t. Empathy works well with all children. 

Practice Forgiveness

Encourage your child to forgive herself for mistakes. Emotional upset is caused less by specific situations or events and more by what we tell ourselves about that situation. For example, if your child is upset about forgetting her homework, help her redirect that anger into planning ways she can remember to bring it tomorrow. 

Create a 5-Point Scale

Use a scale to help your child gauge how upset she is and help her make a coping strategy for each step. The scale might look like this:

1. This doesn’t bother me at all.
2. I can talk myself down.
3. I can feel my heart speeding up...I’ll take 10 deep breaths to relax.
4. OK, this is getting to me, I probably need to “take 5” to regroup.
5. I'm about to have a meltdown -- I need to leave the situation for a few minutes.

Write It Out

Work with your child to create a one-paragraph “social story” that addresses a child’s problem situation -- getting in trouble on the playground, the disappointment that comes with earning a bad grade, nervousness when the student has to perform in front of a group -- and ends happily with a coping strategy.

Give Praise

Be sure to point out when your child shows good emotional control and give praise where it’s due. You could say, “I saw how angry you were, but you kept your cool. Nice job.”

Get Some Shuteye

Make sure your child gets enough sleep. Fatigue increases problems with emotional control. Schedules and daily routines help children better regulate their emotions, because they know what they have to handle and do.

Develop a Plan of Action

Help your child plan for problem situations by coming up with some coping strategies together. For example, when a situation gets heated, your child can let you know when she needs a break. Other self-soothing strategies include holding a favorite stuffed animal (for a younger child) or listening to relaxing music on an MP3 player (for an older child).

Craft a Hard-Times Board

Help your child create a “hard-times board.” List three categories on it: 1. The triggers -- what makes your child upset; 2. The can’t-do’s -- the behavior that’s not permitted at times of upset; and 3. The can-do’s -- two or three coping strategies (draw a picture, take a five-minute break, get a drink of water) to help her recover from being upset. Commend your child when she uses one of the coping strategies from her board.

Lead by Example

Show your child how you cope with emotional upset. For instance, explain how if you find yourself getting cranky and you’re afraid you might say something mean, set the timer for three minutes and take a time-out to calm down. Strategies that work for you may also work for your child.

Read All About It

Read books on emotional control with your child. What to Do When Your Temper Flares and What to Do When You Worry Too Much, both by Dawn Huebner, describe coping strategies for taking control over unpleasant emotions.

Additional Resources

For more must-have resources on helping your ADHD child deal with his emotions, visit the Parenting Skills Resource Center or check out the articles below:
  • Helping Your Child Learn from Failure
  • How to Boost Your Child’s Self Esteem
  • The Power of Praise

  • Want to connect with other parents of ADHDers? Visit the Parents of ADHD Children support group.

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