11 Strategies That Improve Emotional Control at School and Home

Emotional regulation is a life-long skill that yields benefits in school, work, and relationships. Here are simple strategies for teaching kids to recognize, name, and mange their intense ADHD emotions.

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Colored scale. Gauge. Indicator with different colors. Emoji faces icons. Measuring device tachometer speedometer indicator. Vector isolated illustration. EPS 10

Executive function and emotional control walk in lockstep. Stress and emotional flooding affect how children with ADHD learn, play, engage with classmates, follow directions, and retain information. When they enter a heightened state of arousal, their ADHD brain wiring can interfere with social-emotional learning and sabotage self-regulation, making it difficult to access the curriculum, respond appropriately, reframe challenges, react with strategies, or problem solve.

How Educators Can Promote Emotional Control in Students with ADHD

  1. Create a “pattern interrupt” by engaging in an exercise shown to reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels, increase dopamine levels, and release endorphins to induce a calmer state of mind. Shift a classroom’s internal chemistry by doing jumping jacks, jumping like a frog, walking like a bear on your hands and knees, stomping like an elephant, stretching to touch the sky, walking up and down the stairs, or touching toes.
  2. Model emotional coping strategies by leading and posting regulation strategies in the classroom. Create a Zen corner and engage in mindful meditation practices to demonstrate their daily utility. Give each student a code word to alert you when they are struggling.
  3. Reflect on and talk about book characters’ emotions to build a culture of empathy. Connect a character’s emotional state, reactions, and decision making to students’ inner emotional worlds. Build lifelong relationship-management skills by teaching students to reflect on their emotional state, recognize and share feelings, and step into others’ shoes.
  4. Each morning, ask students to take a deep breath, then gauge and name their emotional state or point to an emoji chart. Offer calming strategies to begin the day. This five-minute exercise will pay dividends as children free up mental and emotional energy for the day’s curriculum.
    [Free Resource: 5 Ways to Improve Emotional Control at Home]
  5. When friends or frenemies clash, prompt children to step into each other’s shoes and take their own emotional temperature. Prompt them to consider whether they need space to be less reactive and suggest centering strategies like quietly repeating a mantra such as, “I am OK.”
  6. Improve students’ emotional vocabulary by posting a rich word bank for various nuanced emotional states — in book characters and in themselves. Alternatives to “angry” might be “disappointed,” “irritated,” or “annoyed.” Alternatives to “happy” might be “relieved,” “giddy,” or “content.”

How Parents Can Promote Emotional Control in Children with ADHD

  1. Teach your child how their brain works. When the thalamus perceives a threat, stressor, or danger, the amygdala will sound an alarm and create a cascade of heightened emotions. When children understand how this flooding affects them, they can better identify the sensations of fight, flight, or fear — such as a pounding heart, sweaty palms, and so on.
  2. Help your child differentiate a thinking brain — one that can problem-solve, learn, and pay attention — from a reactive brain that argues, yells, becomes snappy, or feels flooded with emotions. When a child understands how they act in different emotional states, they are better able to catch and reverse actions or tone synonymous with a reactive state.
    [Free Parenting Resource: How to Deal with Anger From Your Child]
  3. Label emotions with detail. Teach your child to identify, name, and process emotional nuances, such as feeling hopeful, overwhelmed, disappointed, or frustrated. By labeling emotions accurately, children are empowered to take the first step in processing them.
  4. Some children ruminate and catastrophize, labeling every setback or challenge “the end of the world.” This happens due to an overactive cingulate gyrus — the gear shifter in the brain. If this gets stuck, cycling from thought to thought or activity to activity can be hard. Help your child get un-stuck by showing them how to do an emotional temperature body scan and asking, “Am I ruminating?” “Am I stuck?” If the answer is yes, engage in mindfulness practices to de-escalate the effects of rumination.
  5. Challenge perceptions when your child seems reactive and overly emotional. Help them impartially compare the context of the situation to the story replaying in their head. Teach your child to double-check, not assume. Maybe he didn’t fully understand the comment, intention, or act. “What evidence is there that this story is true? What else could the answer be?” Now, work with him to alter his inner story by replacing negative thoughts with neutral thoughts. Replace “I know she is ignoring my text” to “She is probably busy and can’t respond right away.”

Emotional Control at School and Home: Next Steps

Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions

Access more resources from ADDitude’s Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions series exploring common learning challenges and strategies to sharpen core EFs at school.

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