Emotional Outbursts — Help!

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    • #67934

      My 8-year-old son has been having severe emotional outbursts at home, mostly during the weekends. From what the teacher has shared, he has them to some degree at school but I don’t think to the same extent. He’s extremely bright and a kind kid, but when he gets frustrated it’s like a volcano erupting. For example, this morning started off a bit rough, he fell (currently on crtuches) which seemed to set the tone. Breakfast was highly charged with him calling himself stupid and a bad kid. We do not use these terms with him.

      Later, when my husband (his father) tried to help him he was screaming at my husband at the top of his lungs and told me that he can’t work with him. My husband was very calm and showed a lot of patience despite the emotional chaos.

      Is this typical for kids with ADHD? Does anyone have any advice on how to handle these emotional outbursts? Also, for those with two-parent homes: Do you notice that your child tends to relate to one parent over another and doesn’t want to work with the other parent? Oh, one more thing–my son is constantly apologizing. We’ve tried to let him know that he doesn’t have to apologize for every thing, but it seems to just happen constantly. Is anyone else experiencing these things?

      Thanks in advance!

    • #67949

      This describes my son when he gets frustrated, makes a mistake or doesn’t complete a task like he feels he should. He also apologizes constantly. Has anyone else experienced this type behavior? If so,what has worked to help.

    • #67967
      Penny Williams

      ADHD is a developmental disorder — so our kids are 20-30% behind their peers in skills, including emotional control and communication. That means an 8-year-old has the skills of a 6 year old, at best. Recognizing that and setting expectations appropriate to his developmental age is the first step — it will diffuse some of the frustration in certain instances.

      Next, work on frustration tolerance and self-regulation skills.

      Play Therapy Techniques and Games to Try at Home

      Helping Your Little Tyrant Avoid Outbursts

      I like the Zones of Regulation program a lot for improving self-awareness and self-regulation.

      Above all, you must remain calm. My favorite reminder of this is: Be the thermostat, not the thermometer. Meaning, don’t mirror and toss back his anger, frustration, tone of voice, etc. Instead, remain calm and help him dial it down.

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Mentor on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

    • #68017

      As far as the two parent household thing – I find that the kids in our house go to me for certain things and my husband for other things. I’m the coordinator, the master of school projects, the shopper of groceries and posterboard, the fixer of toys, the healer of boo boos, the do-er of hair, and the praiser of efforts (so anything in one of those categories, kids are coming to me.

      Flip side, husband is the maker of fun-the knower of all things pop culture-the artist-the man with the patience for a thousand questions about the color of the sky — so the kids go to him for certain things.

      I have certain strengths my husband does not and vice versa. The kids seem to pick up on that. And I think that’s a good thing. Because while I might be really good at coordinating a schedule – I lack the patience my husband has when doing homework with my son. I think everyone is a little happier when we recognize the other parent’s strengths and utilize them.

    • #68360

      I had twin girls on November 6, 1985. Not only were they premature but later I realized they were ADHD. Emotions were the big thing around our house. Little things could set them off. Before they came home from Neonatal care one of my girls would keep the nurses up at night because she would cry and fuss around midnight. Nurses teased me that she would be keeping me up at night. Well they were right. She is the most immature of the two but there are days it went back and forth. It is very true that I had to learn to not get upset or over-react when they were upset. I always told myself that it is not me. I need to help them and figure out what will help in what I say and do. I also started to talk to them and tried to reason with them when they were calmed down. I also sought counseling for them when they were entering school age because I felt overwhelmed with having two at the same time in dealing with certain issues. What might work for one did not always work for the other. I also felt manipulated so I needed to also talk to other about what to do. Took parenting classes for normal kids and for kids with ADHD. I managed to get a real perspective on what I was going through and which was which. That way I knew when they were normal and when they were acting out because of their ADHD. I should mention these are my first children and the only ones I ever had. Too busy with them to think about having more. They are now 32 years old and are still dealing with their emotions but it is different with them being adults. They now understand better and will call a lot to talk to me about certain things to get another perspective. ADHD and helping chidren deal with their emotions is complex because you are not always sure what they are really angry about. Is it because of frustration or is it because someone might have said something. Or they feel like a failure because they are struggling in school or kids are making fun of them because they are constantly interrupting others. It can be very complex and while they are young they are not always able to process information to understand. Helping them sort out their thought and know that you are giving them support helps. I do remember that the girls would yell at me not so much at their dad. I had to remain calm and let them get out what they needed to say and than help them with what they needed. Once calmed down I did say that they need to talk to me more calmly instead of taking their frustration out on me. This was more challenging but they did learn and did learn to do so.

      I hope this helps, Rubie

    • #68361

      My 9 year old son also has temper outbursts over tasks that suddenly seem overwhelming – from tying shoelaces to writing for a school project. He also uses troubling words to describe himself, like ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot’. Recently, I’ve been researching neurotransmitters and a range of ‘disorders’ from PMS to ADHD, and decided to try some St John’s Wort for my son, as this herb encourages the brain to absorb serotonin, which makes us feel calm and pleased with ourselves.
      A month in, and my son has begun to talk to me very calmly about his overwhelming feelings. It has been revelatory. He told me that when he calls himself names, it is because he feels as though nobody lives him. He has told me he asks for my help, not his dad’s help, because his dad is ‘too playful’ when he is feeling overwhelmed.He has begun saying ‘Thank you for all the things you do for me” instead of ‘I’m sorry.’ He has been talking about things his friends do or say to him that make him feel good, and has been looking for ways to make others feel good, too.
      This sage advice from our son has helped us to adjust to the feelings beneath the outbursts, and things are improving through mutual understanding and deeper family connections.
      I hope the description of the feelings behind these difficult behaviour patterns might help your understanding of your son, too.
      If you are interested in trying alternative therapies, please seek professional advice from a respected practitioner, as the treatment for my son will not be suitable for all people.
      Best wishes –

    • #68369

      I am 27 year old female, and I also display this type of behavior you are describing. I constantly apologize, get hotheaded (not to the point of throwing or hurting anyone, just adding that in), but am generally kind and laid-back. Once I erupt like a volcano, I don’t know who I am or why it got to this point. I have to be alone to cry it out. Most of the time it stems from my low self-esteem, I struggle with what Dr. Amen called the ANTs, the Automatic Negative Thoughts. I think very negative about myself and the world seems sometimes dark and my faith in others tends to be on the low side.

      I am currently married and my husband (29) also had ADHD and he also gets into tiny bits of anger during something mostly he can’t control. He feels guilty however, and apologizes but not as much as I do! He chills out however, when he takes L-Theanine. Nothing bothers him then, even losing in a video game, and when I get upset, he comforts me. He tells me, “It’s like all the junk in my head, all the stress, everything vanished! I love you!”. L-Theanine saved that side of the marriage.

      I am on L-Tyrosine, DPA, and sometimes GABA to control my dark thoughts, and I will take L-Theanine periodically but not as much as my husband as it puts me to sleep. I will say this, it does get easier as time passes. Your son definitely needs something to calm him down to think rationally, to clear his mind, which sometimes is easier said than done. I was on medication and hated it, as it made my rages a lot worse. Strattera, the medication I think it was called, caused me to once almost raise my fist at someone and after that, I never touched that medicine again.

      Everyone is different even with ADHD, and I hope your son gets the treatment and is generally happier and more confident. I am still struggling a bit, but it’s nowhere near what it was before my supplement regimen.

    • #68382

      There were many, many times before medication when I would go from zero to 60 without any space of time to intercept the response. I had zero control. I had a toolbox of alternative behaviours, self talk, reminders, etc. But there wasn’t even a tiny space to react in a controlled manner.
      I felt beyond awful for my behaviour and inability to control it.
      It sounds like your son loves you and wants to be a good kid but he sees his reactions as failure. He doesn’t want to be this way but he isn’t able to control it. I suggest you work to find ways to let him know that this isn’t who he is, and you are with him and strong enough to be there, strong enough to see this isn’t him and you do not see this behaviour as a reflection of who he is.
      Make it clear that it’s his brain and not his heart that is taking over.
      When a person is good, knows how to be good, values being good, and wants to be good, this behaviour is disliked, embarrassing, and his inability to control it yells weakness and failure.
      When I finally got the right prescription I didn’t have these out of body, ugly, outbursts anymore. I started being able to live up to the expectations I had for myself. And stopped feeling the depression, regret and failure to show my family the love they deserved.
      He is young and can work on these responses. There are so many ways to slow his body down just enough to help him control this, sometimes. Food was a big one for me.
      Less sugar, caffeine, and heavy foods helped me.
      Exercise can be a great way to handle the after effects of outbursts.
      Anyway, take heart, it sounds like you are a great mom and you have a supportive family. Just keep loving him and staying steady. It helps his heart, even if it doesn’t seem like it helps with his behaviour.
      Feeling unconditionally loved growing up saved me. I didn’t have much opportunity to work in my issues but I was better able to ride it out knowing I was loved by those around me even when I couldn’t love myself

    • #68383

      Yes. This seems to be a typical experience. Seems like with ADHD there can be a difficulty with frustration tolerance and emotional regulation. Sometimes I can’t even believe the extent and intensity of these outbursts and that it’s my son – he’s typically not like that but when he goes into them he can be aggressive, yelling, crying, begging, and completely “lose his mind” for lack of better terms. I find I can sometimes see it coming ?? Or at least in retrospect can say that I should have seen it coming ? – But like if he is sick, has a headache, is hungry, had a frustrating day in school, is being asked to complete a difficult/tedious/frustrating task, or if he is on video games for any extent of time and asked to get off – these things can be “triggers” for him. It helps to at least know even though sometimes it can’t be prevented. Talking about it after wards can be a help. I know my son does not like these “episodes” and does not feel good about them – so work together to find solutions without giving in I’d say is important.

    • #68390

      I have ADHD and definitely know what you are talking about. I’m 36 and feel I have really tried to understand these outbursts and emotion that goes along with them.
      1. Hyperfocusing- I get very very cranky when I hyperfocus for more than 30 minutes. It doesn’t matter what task I’m doing. It’s worse when I’m on the computer. It’s much worse when I’m frustrated about the task at hand. I can’t even think straight. If I’m tired as well, forget about it.
      2. Patronizing parents- the worst is when parents don’t understand and pretend like they do, or when they try to fix the problem but don’t understand the problem – more importantly, they dont understand what the problem is from MY point of view. We think much differently. Don’t even try to ask us.
      3. There is no logic or helping in circumstances like these. We want to vent, not to be touched, and to somehow calm down. When we vent, don’t try to fix anything. All you can do is agree. That’s it. We don’t want hugs. We feel like punching people. Learning now to calm down out of the moment so we have something familiar to go to in the moment would be useful.
      4. I have had many periods of self-loathing. It’s worse when you’re smart. You try SO hard to do something you know shouldn’t be hard and you fail. Not just once, every time. Failing socially is really difficult. Everyone else just “gets” how to act or behave or have friends. We don’t. And when we mess up in life, it’s usually because we’ve hurt someone close or said something inappropriate. We do this over and over and over. I lose things every day, even when I have systems. I get SO angry with myself. All we want to hear is that it sucks that whatever is happening is happening. “That’s must be really frustrating” is a good comment to make. We cannot be fixed in the moment. Don’t bother trying. Talking to your son later to ask him what kind of things you could set up for him to make specific outbursts not happen is critical.

      These behaviors will be with him for life. All you can do as a parent is give him firm boundaries, talk through his frustrations WELL AFTER the outburst, and lovingly teach him how to navigate his world so he knows he isn’t worthless- because he will feel that strongly. Get him to focus on things he’s really good at. Music saved my life!

      I hope this helps!

    • #68392

      Your life reads a lot like ours; almost like a carbon copy! My son keeps saying he’s an idiot or stupid when he struggles to figure things out, even though we encourage him and offer our understanding and love. Our biggest problem is that no matter how much reading I do to improve the learning experience at home, we struggle with getting his teachers to offer support. It would be helpful to know what strategies they use that might be helpful. It seems like I practically have to beg. I’m at a loss. But it’s good to know that we’re not alone in this. Hang in there, you’ve survived 100% of the struggles so far!

    • #68402

      Thank you to everyone who has responded thus far. Hearing perspectives from the parents of children with ADHD as well as those who live with ADHD themselves is SO helpful. It really is helping to shape my understanding and give me some tools and techniques to use.

      I can’t begin to articulate how wonderful it is to know that all of you understand.

      As a parent, I worry so much as to how to help him through life and help him gain coping mechanisms that will help him now and beyond. As an adult, a lot of what he shares with me brings up a lot of my own frustrations when I was a child and was given only a minimal amount of support in these areas. Almost like the blind leading the blind…

      Hearing from all of you is a huge help. I can’t thank everyone enough! Thank you!!!

    • #68403

      This is a carbon copy of my life and my 7 yr old sons, except compared to your son he is happier at home and not happy at school. He’s not on medication. I’m just learning to cope with my own diagnosis- this year- and I always wondered what was wrong and why someone so smart as me evidently made such stupid choices. One thing that really helped me deal with my son’s outbursts was to ignore all the judgements etc no matter where from and just remember he is a little boy who feels lost. Constant praise, constant kindness and constant remembering that these are thoughts, they will pass has helped. We have a small trampoline in the house-the kind you get at gym classes-and if he gets down on himself we try to get him on the tramp for an energy kick. That and reversing any possible low blood sugar helps as well. Keep going, you and he will get through. You are doing great- we can all tell from your posts. Kind /regards,

      Tim A

    • #68408

      While ADHD can cause a child to be driven by emotions and impulsive, what you describe could be related to a different condition. A condition that could be aggravated by stimulant medication. I suggest you have your child reevaluated ASAP.

      Cara Dixon-Taliaferro LMHC
      Pinnacle ADHD Counseling LLC

      • #68413

        Cara: I’m in the process of trying to find the “right” person to do so. Since it looks like you’re in the field based on your signature line, do you have any advice as to what type of doctor we should be looking for? Should it be a clinical psychologist or just a psychologist or a psychiatrist? I’m hesitant with certain titles because we don’t want to go down the path of medication unless absolutely necessary.

    • #68410

      I have a 16 year old that will still occasionally have outbursts but they’ve been so much better since he was put on the lowest dose of sertraline. We hadn’t realized that his anger stemmed from some depression and anxiety. We’d had him last year on ADHD meds but those seemingly made him more volatile so in December of last year we took him off meds. His grades began to slip though and he barely passed a couple of his sophomore classes. When he started his junior year we spoke to another psychiatrist who really listened. He suggested the antidepressant med and gave him the lowest dose to start with and said a higher dose would be needed within a few weeks, however, my son has experienced a positive change and for the first time he’s said the meds are really helping his mood. They’ve even helped with school as he’s not so anxious so he’s able to focus better.
      We’d tried different stimulants in the past but unfortunately they all had the same effect on him; he was more anxious and angrier on them. He was like a ticking time bomb. The antidepressant has worked wonders giving me a happier, calmer teen.

    • #68432

      I can’t help you with the two parent home thing, but I can say my son was also explosive at that age. He’s 13 and he still is, though now it’s more verbally than physically, which is an improvement. He also understands his own explosiveness and does work to control it about 80% of the time. However, he still FAILS at his attempts at control more often than not.

      It’s something we’ve worked with a therapist about. It’s helped both rounds that we’ve done with therapists, but we are currently not in therapy because our last therapist cut his weekend hours, and we haven’t found anyone we like who works on weekends. (We live in a rural town, but I work in the City, so even making evening appointments is impossible for us.)

    • #68470

      You do not need to worry. I am thirteen and I had the same problems when I was younger. I admit that I had very severe anger issues, and am quite embarrassed about it now. What you need to do is lay off of him a little bit. I know that it’s your parental instinct to help your kid when he has bad grades, but constant reminders and badgering usually causes these bad mindsets. I know because of my father. I really do relate to my mother and don’t like working with my father. This isn’t because of anything wrong with me, but it’s what’s wrong with the parent. My father is very nosy, hypocritical, grudge-holding, egocentric, and the likes. Long story short, he’s not happy unless you admit that he’s right, and always right. You should talk to your kid about this. If you’re the one he won’t work with, there’s no need to worry. You don’t at all sound like the person who’d act like my father. But still, you should talk to your kid and, if applicable, to the parent he won’t work with. You need to know what both of them think to figure out accurately what’s going on between them. Good luck.

    • #68491

      There are a lot of good responses here, so I’m just going to respond to the question of where to go for help.
      A psychiatrist is an M.D. and can prescribe medication. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) can usually do this also. P.A.’s (Physician Assistants) can also prescribe. I understand you want to avoid medication, but if you change your mind, many pediatricians do a lot of prescribing of stimulants and/or antidepressants. So prescribing is only done by those with medical training.
      A psychologist is trained in research and testing and advanced assessment. A neuropsychologist also tests for neurodevelopmental disorders. They cannot prescribe, although this is a point of controversy because of their lengthy training in the field.
      Some psychologists also do therapy. Master’s level therapists are LCSW’s, LMHC’s, and LMFT’s. There are various acronyms in different states, but usually the SW, MHC and MFT are in there somewhere. Most master’s level therapists do primarily therapy and some of them will specialize in children and AD/HD. I am an LMFT, and personally, I specialize in AD/HD with symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, because someone with straight AD/HD and no other issues may do fine with an AD/HD coach who does not have mental health training. I think this type of person is fairly rare, however, because there are so many co-morbid issues with AD/HD and also the disorder can cause a lot of anxiety and/or depressive symptoms. Things like negative self-statements. AD/HD is generally hard on the person’s self-esteem. (I should know, I have ADD myself!)
      I recommend going to a site like Psychology Today and looking for someone in your area who specializes in children and AD/HD. School counselors and pediatricians are also a good source of referrals.
      Good luck! Nancy

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