Ask the Experts

Q: How Can My Son Control His Emotions on the Field?

Boys with ADHD struggle with emotional regulation, which can become a social burden when they unleash over-the-top reactions during organized sports games. Here, learn to avoid these emotional outbursts by choosing a different sport or practicing “front loading.”

Boys playing sports

Q: “My child explodes whenever he loses at a game. I can tell his over-the-top reactions are turning off his peers. How do I calm him down and help him get over his hyper-competitiveness?”

Boys in general tend to be emotionally reactive during organized sports. But if your son’s emotions are extreme and uncontrollable, perhaps that particular sport is not right for him. Or perhaps his brain development just hasn’t reached the point where he has the emotional regulation skills to handle that sport.

I’ve seen boys with ADHD respond positively to martial arts, wrestling, gymnastics, and ice hockey. Sports like baseball that require a lot of sitting around can be bad for boys with ADHD who can’t tolerate boredom.

Regardless of the sport, before your son has practice or a game you should practice “front loading” — talk to him about what the game will look like, how he might feel, and what strategies he can use if he starts to get overwhelmed. Even if he doesn’t use the plan every time, approaching the situation with a map will help him feel prepared if emotional reactivity does become an issue.

Try your best not to get into an argument or debate about his outburst. Many parents try to reason with their child: they mistake their son’s intelligence or ability to articulate himself as maturity and assume that he’ll have the emotional maturity to listen to reason when, in fact, most boys cannot learn when they are upset or agitated.

[Free Parenting Resource: Manage Your Child’s Anger]

This content came from the ADDitude webinar by Ryan Wexelblatt titled “The Social Lives of Boys with ADHD: Why Traditional Therapy and Social Skills Groups Rarely Work” That webinar is available for free replay here.