Teens with ADHD

Q: “How Do I Respond When My Emotional ADHD Teen Crosses the Line?”

“Nobody – not even your teen – can change how they’re experiencing emotions in the heat of the moment. With ADHD and emotional dysregulation, it is not that your teen won’t control their behaviors, but that they can’t.”

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Credit: Rudzhan Nagiev/Getty Images

Q: “Our teen struggles to keep his emotions and behavior in check. He yells, swears, and disrespects us. We understand the brain chemistry behind ADHD and emotional dysregulation, but we’re still concerned about his problematic, hurtful behaviors. How can we enforce consequences and teach him that his behaviors are unacceptable?”


This question has been around since the beginning of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Deep down, probably all parents of explosive teens with ADHD know that no single consequence can make their impulsive, emotionally dysregulated brains stop and reassess their actions. As a result, most advice around consequences for negative behaviors is ineffective.

The best way to respond when your teen is out of control is to remove yourself from the situation. For one, your teen probably won’t remove themselves if you ask them. Second, nobody – not even your teen – can change how they’re experiencing emotions in the heat of the moment. With ADHD and emotional dysregulation, it is not that your teen won’t control their behaviors, but that they can’t.

[Read: Strategies to Manage Your Teen’s Intense Emotions]

Removing yourself from the situation still sets boundaries. It conveys to your teen that, while you’re aware that they’re not in control of their explosive emotions, you have the ability to protect yourself, which redefines the confrontation. You can say to your teen, “Even though I know that things are out of control for you right now, I can’t allow myself to be treated that way. As soon as you are feeling more in control, come back and find me because I want to talk to you about it.”

No matter the situation, it’s important that you communicate to your teen that you’re not rejecting them but setting limits on overt behaviors. We know that with emotional dysregulation comes increased risk for low self-esteem and shame in teens with ADHD. Rather than label your child negatively, remind yourself that underneath the out-of-control behaviors is the wonderful child you adore.

Out-of-Control Teens with ADHD: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, How Emotional Dysregulation & ADHD Transform Teen Relationships from Messes to Minefields [Video Replay & Podcast #398], with Ellen Littman, Ph.D., which was broadcast on April 26, 2022.


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