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ADHD in Children: Managing Moods and Emotions

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 07, 2021

Kids with ADHD have the same feelings as people without the condition. Joy, anger, fear, sadness -- the list goes on. Their emotions are just stronger, happen more often, and last longer. They also tend to impact everyday life.

As a parent or caregiver, it may be hard to understand why your child acts the way they do. You might think they’re just being difficult. But it’s important to remember they’re not doing it on purpose. For them, learning to control their behavior may take more time and effort. Here’s what you need to know.

Why They Have Trouble Regulating Emotions

Many children act without thinking or get so excited that they have a hard time calming down. They usually grow out of this and learn how to manage their emotions. That’s called self-regulation.

Experts compare it to a thermostat, which kicks in to keep the room at the temperature you want. Your child learns to take their own “temperature” and cool off when their emotions start to heat up.

But kids with ADHD have a hard time with this skill.

How Emotions Look in Kids With ADHD

There’s no one way a child with ADHD expresses their emotions. One kid’s feelings may spiral out of control when they’re upset. Others may have trouble finding the motivation to do something that doesn’t interest them.

But here’s what it typically looks like:

  • Small things frustrate or worry them, and they can’t let them go
  • It’s hard for them to cool off after something upsetting happens
  • They view even gentle criticism as an insult or attack
  • When they want something they feel the need to have it right away

Keep an eye out for overly positive emotions, too. Kids with ADHD can become absorbed in feelings of excitement, joy, and expectation.

How to Help Them Control Their Emotions

This goal is more complex when your child has ADHD, but it’s still possible to achieve. Follow these tips:

Don’t downplay your child’s feelings. Kids need a safe space to talk about their emotions. Do your best to listen more than you ask questions. And try to put yourself in their shoes. Emotions that don’t make sense to you are still real to your child.

Continued

Support healthy habits. Try to make sure your child eats well and gets enough sleep. It’s harder to manage feelings when you’re hungry or tired. Exercise (at least an hour a day) is also important. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) may help, too.

Make a list of coping skills. These are ways to help your child feel better during stressful moments without hurting themselves or others. Some skills work better in public and others at home. Here are a few things they can try:

  • Deep breathing
  • Exercising
  • Music
  • Journaling
  • Drawing
  • Talking to a parent or friend

Do your best to take care of your emotional health, too. It’s easier to support your child when you’re well. Try making a list of coping skills. Ask for help from friends and family when you need it.

You can also consider joining a support group or parent training program. Search online to see what’s available near you.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

KidsHealth: “Parenting a Child With ADHD.”

Understood: “ADHD and emotions,” “Trouble with self-regulation: What you need to know,” “Understanding your child’s trouble managing emotions.”

 CHADD: “Emotion Regulation in Teens with ADHD,” “Parenting a Child With ADHD.”

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