Q: Why Is My Child with ADHD So Angry and Violent Now?
Some children with ADHD are prone to emotional outbursts of anger, violence, and abusive language. Here, learn how parents can anticipate and prevent this extreme emotional dysregulation, and respond calmly and productively when it happens.
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ADHD and Violent Outbursts
Q: “My 7 year old has recently become very angry and violent, so we started him on medication during Week 8 of the lockdown. He was diagnosed with ADHD last summer, but he wasn’t very angry or violent before the lockdown. Do you have any advice for how to deal with serious anger trigged by anything and everything?”
A: “Kids are angry and they are going to take it out on someone with whom they feel safe — someone who has protected them in the past. And you’re not able to make this better for them. They are struggling to contain their big feelings; that’s another reason they lash. They are going to export their angry, uncomfortable feelings to you, and often times parents import those feelings and get set off themselves, and then we’re in a firestorm. They are also exporting those feeling because they can’t contain them.
“Your kids need to know that you see their struggle, that you’re not going to shame them for it, and that things really are hard. 9 times out of 10, kids want validation that they have a right to be angry or upset. What happens lots of times in families is the opposite; parents want their kids to calm down and calm down quickly. The worst thing you can say is, ‘You need to calm down.’
“What would be more helpful would be to say, ‘I can see that you’re really angry. What would help you dial it down right now?’ We want to convey empathy first. Nonetheless, you want to set limits around foul language and violence, and set up a plan for making amends. Here are some ideas…”
ADHD and Runaway Emotions
Q: “One of the things we struggle with most is our child’s anger. She is a very high achiever, but as parents we see extreme outbursts of anger and self-loathing. We work hard at identifying things before there’s an explosion, but we can’t seem to address things fast enough — it’s 0 to 60 mph in the blink of any eye. How can we intervene sooner? When we intervene at 100 mph, she refuses to use any of the techniques her therapist gave her.”
A: “One she’s at 100 mph, there is no way you can intervene successfully. What is called for then is a time apart. Everybody has to calm down. You can’t have a conversation or use tools when you are activated that way…
“It takes 10 to 15 minutes for that stress reaction to calm itself down. You aren’t going to be able to predict all of the various things that make her angry; all you work on is the process of dealing with that anger. This is true for a high-achieving high school girl with ADHD, but it’s also true for an 8 year old. In the moment, you need a plan for success with clauses for non-cooperation and push back.”
ADHD and Abusive Language
Q: “What would you suggest for moving away from abusive language when my son is angry. He says a lot of mean, hurtful things — wishing death or severe harm on me, his grandmother, and his sister. Then, two minutes later, he acts as if nothing has happened. ”
A: “His abusive language is essentially like a valve that lets steam out of a tea kettle. Once it’s out, it’s gone. It has evaporated for him. He doesn’t actually see the effect of his words or behavior on other people. Even if you tell him his words and behavior are hurtful to others, it doesn’t seem to be sinking in. Instead, what I would do is move towards apologies of action. When you use that kind of language, in order for us to see that you are truly sorry you are going to help me fold the laundry or go to the grocery store or do something else to demonstrate that he acknowledges the harm done.”