ADHD and Anger Management for Children

Angry boy shouting with sound waves

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It is not uncommon for children with ADHD to react in anger. It can be very difficult for these kids to manage and regulate their emotions. They may also be hypersensitive. Stressful or frustrating situations can quickly boil over into intense anger. Children with ADHD also have a tough time being able to stop and think through problems before reacting.

As a parent, it can be hard to see your child losing control. While we can’t make the anger disappear, we can help our children better manage these intense reactions.

Understand Triggers

Be aware of what triggers your child’s angry meltdowns. Are there particular times of day that anger appears to peak? Are there any patterns? Some times when anger may appear:

  • You may notice that after school time is most difficult as your child is able to let down their guard and release pent up feelings.
  • It may be when they are feeling hungry or tired.
  • There may be triggers that set your child off like when experiencing frustration with a task.
  • Also, times the medication is wearing off may be most difficult.

Intervene Early

As you become more aware of the triggers, you can begin to intervene before the anger comes to a full-blown head. Be a calming presence. If your child responds well to physical contact, rub their back or arm. Encourage them to take a deep breath and count to 10. Do this along with them to help demonstrate this calming technique.

Use Time Out

Time out doesn’t have to be punitive. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Time out is a great way for your child to remove themselves from the negative situation to take some time to cool down.

Approach time out in this way. Pick a time when your child is happy and settled and talk with them about how to use time out. Give your child a sense of control by having them choose a designated time out chair away from the hustle and bustle of the household. Now they will understand how to use it when they need it.

When your child needs a time out, provide guidance by walking with them to the designated time out chair. As they sit down in the chair (or stands by the chair if the movement is helpful), practice the deep breathing exercises with them. Don’t try to talk with them about the situation until they are calm and settled.

Give your child praise for being able to use time out to cool down, and then spend some time talking about what happened. If anger led your child to react by destroying their crayons and breaking them in two, ask them what they could have done differently to express their feelings in a way that is less harmful, more productive.

Be aware of your voice tone and model calmness. Give praise for coming up with positive alternative solutions.

Label Feelings

As you notice your child is beginning to feel frustrated, reflect upon their feelings. “That puzzle is really hard to put together! I see it is making you feel a little frustrated.” As you do this, you will help your child become more aware of their own feelings.

As awareness increases, you can help your child label their feelings. If you got an update from the teacher that your child had a rough time with peers that day, spend time talking with them about how it felt. Help your child to express their feelings to you by using words.

Offer Choices

Offering choices to your child gives them a sense of control. If you know that your child has difficulty with transitions such as clean up time, help them ease through this time by offering a choice. “Do you want to clean up the blocks first or the race cars?”

Just be sure to limit the number of choices to two or three. Too many choices can make a child feel overwhelmed or over-stimulated.

Make Sure Your Child Is Getting Plenty of Sleep

Children with ADD/ADHD often have difficulties with sleep. When kids don’t get enough sleep, they are more irritable and moody, have more trouble tolerating stress, are more easily frustrated, and overall symptoms of ADD/ADHD will be worse during the day.

Model Good Anger Management Yourself

It is very hard for children with ADD/ADHD to regulate their own emotions, but the more and more you can do to help your child understand their feelings and be more aware of alternative, more positive ways to react, the better. One way to do this is through example. Teach by example, by not only responding in an appropriate manner but also by talking through the process so your child will better understand.

Read Books Together

Go to the library and pick out books that address feelings, especially related to anger, frustration, rejection, isolation, sadness, or any other difficult emotion your child frequently experiences. Ask the librarian for recommendations. Read these stories together with your child and discuss the feelings. Discuss the ways the character handles their feelings.

How do the characters react? Could they have reacted differently? How might you react when faced with the same situation? Problem solve situations together and discuss positive steps characters can take.

Spend Special Time Together

Make sure you set aside regular times each day to spend one on one time with your child. Make this time together positive, loving, and nurturing. So often kids with ADD/ADHD experience the negative. They need to know that they are valued and loved. You as the parent can make a world of difference in your child’s positive sense of self. Special time with you is incredibly valuable.​

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.