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No More Meltdowns! 6 ADHD-Friendly Calming Strategies

The afternoon is often the toughest time of day for hungry, tired kids — especially those who struggle with transitions. Here’s how parents can defuse meltdowns before they begin.

by Terry Matlen, ACSW

Why It's the Witching Hour (or Two)

We parents know that it’s a roller-coaster ride from the time our ADHD kids get home from school or camp until they go to bed. That shouldn’t be surprising. Kids walk through the door mentally exhausted, physically edgy, and starving. What’s more, their medication has usually worn off, causing their ADHD symptoms to return with a vengeance. Here, an expert offers her six best strategies for surviving the afternoon angst.

Avoid Over-Scheduling

Don’t over-schedule your child with afternoon activities. Kids with attention deficit work at least twice as hard as their non-ADHD peers and need about twice as much downtime. Try setting up a space for your child to calm down in when she gets overly stressed. Outfit the room with activities and games she can quietly play with on her own – such as jigsaw puzzles, video games, and books to read.

Save the Errands for Later

Since moodiness, irritability, anger, and defiance are common in ADHD kids who are tired and hungry, don’t force your child to accompany you on errands right when he gets home. Running errands will only tire your child out more. If you have to go out, spending the money to hire an ADHD-friendly babysitter is a better option than dragging your child along with you.

Take It Outside

Set aside time for physical activity. Not only does getting outdoors and moving around release tension and hyperactivity, it also increases neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing your ADHD kid to sustain mental focus for longer periods of time. Suggest that your child rake the leaves, ride a bike, go swimming, or take a walk in the park when she gets home in the afternoon.

Consider an Afternoon Dose of Meds

Talk with your child's doctor about giving him an afternoon dose of ADHD medication. Many children benefit from a second dose, which helps them focus and stay calm during the second half of the day. Remember, no child likes to feel out of control.

Pile On the Protein

Watch what your child snacks on in the afternoon. Foods rich in protein will help balance a child’s mood better than foods high in simple carbohydrates. Sticking with complex carbohydrates will also help to avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes. Consider an early dinner if your ADHDer just can’t wait for the family meal.

Hire a Tutor

During the school year, consider hiring a tutor or a high school student to help your child with homework. A non-family member is usually a better homework helper than parents, who may quickly butt heads with their child.

Be Supportive

Be realistic about your expectations and don’t compare your child with his non-ADHD siblings. Remember that children with ADHD need positive reinforcement, even on tough days. Acknowledge the accomplishments he made that day, large and small.

Additional Resources

For more help managing meltdowns and addressing defiant behavior, check out the following resources:

1. 7 Quick Fixes for ADHD Meltdowns
2. Prevent, React to, and Stop ADHD-Fueled Temper Tantrums
3. How to Defuse an Angry Child
4. Parenting a Defiant Child: ODD and ADHD

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