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“Calm the Crazies in Your Emotional Child”

Three tactics that help when your child is bouncing off the walls.

Are you the parent of kids who run up and down the aisles of the grocery store? Do you get the evil eye from the person in front of you at the movie theater, on an airplane, or any other sort of seated public appearance? Are you worried about what the neighbors might think as the high-pitched shrieks of laughter or screams of sibling rivalry bellow from behind your walls?

You are not alone! Last week my 10-year-old daughter and I were hanging out on the pool deck as my son swam laps with his swim team. It was a special day because later that evening we had tickets to watch Shawn Mendes and Charlie Puth perform. I was on edge, anticipating the ADHD-induced sillies to rain on our parade.

My girlfriend and her two younger boys came over to say hello. Her boys were fresh out of the pool and wrapped up in towels to dry off. My daughter walked over to greet them. I was far enough away to not be able to hear what was going on. I observed her running circles around the seven-year-old boys and repeatedly sticking her face inches from theirs. I could tell from their body language that they were less than amused. Engaged in conversation with my girlfriend, this scenario continued for several minutes. Finally, I was able to call her name and redirect her.

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When we were back in the car and safely out of the public eye, I asked her what was going on.

“I’m just so excited about the concert,” she said.

“I know, sweetie. Me, too. But it was obvious from the boys’ body language that they weren’t happy with your behavior.”

“I know, but I didn’t really care.”

I’ll count this as a small win, because a few years ago she would have been oblivious to the body language.

I took a deep breath. I went in knowing this day was going to be a challenge. The concert tickets were a gift for her birthday (nine months ago), so the buildup of excitement was a lot for any child to handle. But my daughter was dealt the ADHD card, so regulating her emotions was a bigger challenge. I reminded myself that parenting my daughter requires me to stay calm and to not sweat the small stuff. I forged ahead, determined to face each moment as it presented itself. We were making memories!

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The concert was much better than I had expected. There were moments of unbridled craziness, but I told myself that yelling at your child is never the answer, a tough task when your daughter is screaming at the top of her lungs and bouncing off hotel beds.

I came home feeling like a champion because I kept my cool, worked with my daughter through the rough patches, and shared an experience with her that, at one time, I didn’t think was possible. This recent “win” gave me the idea of noting what works to calm the crazies when it appears like you fed your child a bowl full of sugar for breakfast.

Get the wiggles out. If my kids are bouncing off the walls at home and it’s too much for me to handle, I give them an activity to get that energy out — like run three laps around the pool or drop and give me 10 burpees.

Redirect them. Going back to my concert example, there are times when you can’t send your kid off to burn up energy. Try refocusing their attention by playing a game like rock-paper-scissors, freeze dance, or charades. It has to be something entertaining enough to capture their attention.

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Teach them how to self-calm. This is the most difficult for me to execute, but I’m not giving up because, in the long run, it is the most effective tool to teach our kids to succeed in life. The tactic I have had the most success with is what I call “snake breathing”: Have your child  take a long slow breath in through her nose and then slowly exhale through her mouth while making a hissing sound.

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    1. Our counselor has taught a lot of different breathing exercises for self-calming and given them cute names so my kiddos can remember them. For example, bunny breaths, quick inhales through your nose and then a long exhale out your mouth. Another self-calming exercise she called rainbow…simply think of a color then name 3 things that the color brings to mind. The idea is to just stop and redirect your mind.

  1. Alison, I was intrigued with your daughter’s comment “I know, but I don’t care”. I have a “man/child” boyfriend of 65 – and sometimes the way he treats me is exactly like this. He sometimes seems to actually relish hurting me and thinks it is funny. I am beginning to think he has ADD – he doesn’t get “hyper” but gets super/super anxious and angry and takes to the alcohol and cigarettes in order to calm down and relax. He seems unable to understand that I get really upset by things he says and does, and can just erupt like a volcano at the least little thing – especially when I try to talk about it, and he obviously thinks I am criticizing – and more so when he is stressed or (I think) is wanting a drink. He is a NIGHTMARE, and at the moment is not talking to me (that’s something else he does, then eventaully “comes round” – he does it to his mother, as well – and yet other times he can be so sweet and loving). This time I REALLY AM on the point of letting him get on with it – BUT I can’t stop thinking about him and worrying about him. He has blocked both my phones, so I can’t ring him – and he is not answering my emails. I feel he really needs my support – but he keeps pushing me away. I know most people would just walk away and not look back – BUT!! Any thoughts, please? Lorna

      1. lisatlantic, Thank you so much for your response. I have actually attended Al-Anon in the past, and was not impressed – although I guess each group will be different. However, your comments make a lot of sense, and help clarify things for me. I have read an enormous amount of books on alcoholism and mental health issues, but could still not really understand what was going on. I started an in-depth training course yesterday to become a telephone counsellor for alcoholics and drug addicts and the trainer explained in more detail how alcohol affects the brain. That explained how the symptoms I have noticed are very similar to someone with ADD – as alcohol changes the neurotransmitters in the brain, and explains how I was getting confused. I’m hoping that this course will give me some of the jig-saw puzzle pieces I have missing – so that I can understand more of what has been going on with this man. I’ve already found it absolutely fascinating, and learnt a lot. And even if I don’t get together again with my alcoholic, and he never recovers, it will help me to better understand him and what he is going through, and forgive him, so that I do not carry the burden of being angry with him, blaming him and resenting him for the rest of my life. Thanks, once again. Lorna

        1. Lorna,
          I am so sorry you are going through this. As the mother of a boy with extreme ADHD, the step mother of two young adult males- one with ADHD and one with ADD, and someone surrounded by recovering and active addicts/alcoholics, I think the two often go hand in hand. I am an active member of Alanon and just about all the moms in the rooms that I am close with have young children diagnosed with ADHD/ADD. The open AA meetings I attend are full of people with ADHD/ADD. My lay-person sense is that untreated, people with ADHD/ADD can tend toward self medication. Think about it, our minds (I have ADD) gets very easily overwhelmed, we get negative messages from the world constantly ‘ stop this, don’t do that’, etc, so shame grows. And the ADD/ADHD brain is constantly seeking strong dopamine hits. Seems like a strong recipe for addiction if untreated and unsupported. I have a family member in exactly that position. But, as some living with some active addiction and some addicts in recovery, AND my youngest, I cannot speak highly enough of Al Anon. It has taught me that I cannot control my loved ones, but I can work on my reactions to them. By all means try other meetings. Meetings that are solution oriented are best I find. You can also try open AA meetings- some of them are AWESOME. All that to say you may very well he dealing with both ADD and addiction. All the best to you. PS if you want to talk more about Al Anon, I would be happy t find a way to connect. And, I know that Al Anon is not right for everyone. Good for you to learn more about alcoholism.

          1. mia.greene – Thank you so much for your response. It really, really helps hearing of other peoples’ experiences. Things have not changed for me since I posted in September, as my man has still blocked my phones. I sent him a card telling him I was still here for him if he needs help and support 24/7, and please ring me for a chat, but I have not heard from him. I heard through a friend that he has given up his work as an organist in church since he was 65, and retired, at the end of September, so I don’t think that is going to be good for him. He will have no reason to regulate and organize his life. He still runs the voluntary choir, so at least he still has that in his life. I realize that I was just too much for him to cope with – “nagging” all the time about the booze, even though I tried not to nag, just to encourage, but it made him anxious. I know he did love me in the beginning, but as you say, that was an excitement for him, a dopamine fix, and once that excitement wore off, he got bored – and obviously prefers the booze to me. Well, it was an experience, and maybe I can help others out there with the telephone counselling helpline I am now involved with, and I intend to help at the local drop-in for the homeless. I think you are right that people with ADHD or even ADD must get relief from either alcohol or drugs – it must be awful being trapped inside your head that way. I feel so very, very sorry for all those who suffer, but what can we do? If they don’t want us to be there for them and help, what can we do? I don’t know what the answer is, and it makes me cry to think of it all. Especially it makes me cry for my man-friend, as there is such a lovely, sweet, gentle side to him, too, as well as the volcano that erupts every so often. I don’t know what the future holds for him. Probably he will drink himself to death. I can eaaily see how AlAnon has helped you. The group I went to seemed to have a very negative attitude, and I could not wait to get out. Maybe another group would help. Trying to see that he is actually suffering from a medical condition, and it is not personal, has helped me to cope with the intense sense of lonliness and frustration/futility that overwhelms me at times. He definitely seems to see the world from a different perspective than I do. Thank you once again for your support. Lorna

    1. Hi Lorna,
      I can’t speak much to alcoholism and I’m so very sorry for the abuse you have been enduring. In my daughter’s situation her response “I know, but I don’t care” is due to her lack of impulse control thanks to ADHD. She wanted a reaction from the boys she was playing with and didn’t really care if it was a positive or negative one. In that moment she just wanted to interact with them and she couldn’t see the long term consequences that the negative interaction could hold due to her excitement in that moment.

      1. jtheuriet – Thank you so much for your response. Yes, I can see what you mean about a lack of impulse control. And, I can see that that is what happens to my C. I’m not wanting to seem to be making excuses for him – but he does just jump right in when he is upset about something – without even taking a second to think it through and wonder what the consequences would be. I just so wish I could get the chance to talk it over with him and explain what his problem may be (Adult ADD). He has told me he gets very, very anxious, which I can see does happen, so probably trying to talk to him would just make him anxious. His way of coping is just to drink himself stupid – but that is obviously NOT the answer. Maybe at some point, I will get a chance to communicate with him calmly and quietly – for his sake. I do not want to think of him drinkkng himself to death. Thanks, again. Lorna

  2. Hi Lorna
    I had exactly the same relationship you described with my daughters father. The emotional abuse was awful and he also had temper tantrums. My daughter is currently undergoing diagnosis for ADHD and having researched it I now realise he has undiagnosed ADHD of the ‘spacey’ variety. He’s often lost on his own world, never achieved what he was capable of and has a terrible temper and restlessness. I battled to help him for a long time, but in the end I had to recognise that I couldn’t ‘save’ him- only he could do that- and to stay with him was damaging myself. My advise is to walk away. Emotional abuse is emotional abuse- whether it’s connected to ADHD or not. Look after yourself…good luck.

    1. Lili, Thank you so much for your reply. It’s so reassuring to get other peoples’ stories. I think through reading these I have finally come to realize that he does suffer from something of this sort(ADHD). I am having counselling at the moment, and the counsellor says he may also have “separation anxiety”, as he gets so anxious about being “abandoned” – he even used this word himself. He was packed off to boarding school as a child, and he hated that, so it may have stemmed from that time – as he was probably always an anxious person. I also wonder if he was sexually abused by one of the masters at school, as he made reference to that, but I did not get to the bottom of it, and discuss it further – he is a very private person – as you say, lost in his own world. It is so very, very sad, and I just SO wish I could have been of more help to him. But as you say, we have to take care of ourselves, and abuse is not acceptable. Of course, it is much easier to bear if we do not take it personally – realize that it is all part of the illness, and they do not mean to hurt us – it is just the way it is. They seem to need to lash out at someone to get rid of the anxiety. I’m sorry to hear that your marriage failed and that you are now having to come to terms with your daughter’s ADHD, too. You know I wonder if this is all a modern phenomonon? I had never heard of ADHD when I was young, now it is everywhere – is it caused by our stressful way of living now do you think? I know I should just leave things as they are and turn my back and walk away – but it is so very hard …… I worry about him all the time and wonder how he is getting on. I miss him, but at the same time know that there is no future !! Thank you for your good wishes. Lorna

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