Q: “How Should I Parent When ADHD Emotional Dysregulation Takes Over?”
“To help your daughter feel supported and less alone, actively listen, and show genuine interest and empathy by nodding, making eye contact, holding her hand, and providing verbal affirmations.”
Q: “I need a better way to connect with my daughter. When she is overwhelmed and emotional, and I try calming her down, it only makes things worse. What should I say and do?” — ConcernedParent
Knowing how to respond effectively and connect with a child who is overwhelmed and emotional can be tricky. It’s common for children with ADHD and executive functioning challenges to experience intense emotions and struggle with emotional dysregulation, leading to mood swings, impulsivity, and difficulty regulating their behavior.
Let me offer some techniques that may help you to establish a stronger connection with your daughter during those moments.
Sometimes, the hardest thing for parents to do (and yet the most important) is to actively listen. When your daughter gets overwhelmed, find a quiet, comfortable space to sit together and let her express herself without interruption. If you feel the urge to speak, remember the acronym WAIT, which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” It will help you be more aware of interrupting or offering your opinion.
While actively listening, show genuine interest and empathy by nodding, making eye contact, holding her hand, and providing verbal affirmations like, “I’m listening,” or “I understand this is tough for you.”
Be sure to validate her emotions by acknowledging that it’s okay to feel like she does. You can say, “It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes.” This will help her feel understood and less alone in her struggles.
As parents, we often want to be our child’s best problem solver. We may think that benign statements like “It’s not so bad” or “You can do it” are supportive, but they can be interpreted as opinions or advice and make our children feel worse. We need to validate their feelings first and actively listen before offering sage advice.
Maintaining emotional composure during your child’s moments of emotional dysregulation is essential. Otherwise, the situation can escalate if you become agitated, frustrated, or even raise your voice. Instead, take a few deep breaths and speak in a very low voice. From my experience, bringing your voice down helps a child modify their own. When my children were younger and experiencing emotional outbursts, I would ask, “Are you able to match me tone for tone?” This helped them immediately modulate their voice.
It’s so important that your daughter believes she is in control of her situation, as that will help her with emotional regulation. You can support her by letting her lead. Once she is in a more composed emotional place, please do not launch into a litany of questions. Instead, ask her, “Would you like some alone time, or prefer we sit together and talk?” Options give her authority and allow her to process her emotions at her own pace.
As a parenting coach, I’ve seen many parents overfocus on “fixing the problem” and leapfrog over “normalizing tough moments.” However, our children must hear that everyone makes mistakes and experiences hard times. It’s how we learn and grow. Feel free to share with your daughter some examples from your life. Just remember to keep your language neutral.
Seek Professional Help
If your daughter’s emotional struggles persist and significantly impact her daily life, consider seeking support from a mental health professional specializing in children with ADHD. They can work with your daughter to develop coping strategies for when she is dysregulated.
Remember that building a strong connection with your daughter takes time. Consistently demonstrating empathy and support will help her feel safe (when her world doesn’t) and understood during moments of emotional overwhelm.
Active Listening 101: Next Steps
- Self-Test: Could Your Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?
- Download: Evaluate Your Teen’s Emotional Control
- Read: 5 Ways to Be a Better Listener
- Learn: “Stop Trying to Fix Everything!” Scripts for Reflective Listening
ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.
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