Meltdowns & Anger

Q: “My Son and Husband Both Want the Last Word.”

My son and husband fight constantly. They both have ADHD and emotional dysregulation, and they get locked in power struggles. Can I help defuse tensions?

Father and son arguing
Credit: Aleksei Naumov/Getty Images

Q: “My husband and my son both have ADHD — and often get into explosive arguments. They each want to have the last word. What are some techniques I can use to help keep the peace when they’re both going from 0 to 100?”

Intense emotions and difficulty regulating them are core features of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which also happens to be highly hereditary. That means that caregivers with ADHD who are raising emotionally triggered children will understandably have a difficult time controlling their own responses to their kids’ emotions.

But that does not excuse parents for serving as poor role models for their children. It may be difficult to reason with your husband in the heat of the moment, so in a moment of calm, talk to him about his responses. Tell him that you expect more restraint and control on his part — not for him to mirror your son’s explosive responses. Remind your spouse that there is much more at stake for the whole family than winning an argument, and that everyone in the family deserves to live in an atmosphere of respect. Ask your spouse, “How are these repetitive arguments working for you?’ to emphasize that no one really wins in these arguments — the whole family pays the price. Encourage your husband to think about how proud he’ll be if he practices as much self-control as possible, and how that will translate to a better relationship with his son.

[Get This Free Download: How to Deal with Anger From Your Child]

Similarly, find a moment of calm where you can speak to your child about his responses. This time, ask your son what he achieves, if anything, from fighting with his dad. Your son will likely admit or realize that he gains nothing — and that will be your entry point to talk about different methods he can use to achieve what he wants most: to be heard.

The next time an argument breaks out, act as a referee would with boxers in the ring and separate your husband and son into neutral corners. (Different rooms, if possible.) Try to distract them from their own ADHD emotions to de-escalate their intense feelings, or at least prevent them from going off the rails. Remind them of your previous conversations, and that talking to one another in a civil, polite way is the surest way for both of them to get what they want.

Family Fights and ADHD: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude Mental Health Out Loud episode titled, “How to De-escalate Explosive Stress Reactions” [Video Replay and Podcast #409] with William Dodson, M.D., which was broadcast live on June 29, 2022.

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.