ADHD kids are plagued by emotions that are frequently out of control. They are emotionally labile–happy one minute, enraged the next. They appear to have little control over their emotions.
This is a cause of significant distress for the child and everyone around him or her.
One of the characteristics of ADHD children who are sucessful in later life is the ability to deal with and manage emotions.
A useful set of techniques for dealing with emotion is cognitive behavioral therapy. The basic assumption of CBT is that our emotions are generated by the way we think about situations and events, not by the situations or events themselves.
This could obviously be a little abstract for a very young child, but it can be simplified by focusing on what the child is thinking rather than on what he’s feeling or shouldn’t be doing.
The discussion following an emotional outburst can then become a discussion of what you were thinking and how what you were thinking caused you to feel. Emphasis is always on you having responsibility for your emotions because you generate your emotions.
It takes time for the child to be able to use this technique. The major step is getting awareness of the link between thought and emotion and acceptance of the responsibility for the emotion.
The second assumption of CBT is that if we change our thinking we change our emotions. Exaggerated emotions are caused by exaggerated (unrealistic or irrational) thinking.
Changing our thinking to more realistic and logical thoughts will result in more modulated emotions. It doesn’t mean you’ll never get irritated or frustrated again, but it does mean that episodes of eyeball bulging, vein popping rage should be much less frequent.
Technique-after a meltdown,
1. help the child identify the emotion. Were you angry at Billy or afraid your friends would like him better than you?
2. help him identify the exaggerated thoughts–nobody will ever like me, I’ll be all alone forever. Billy’s a poop-head.
3.help him establish some emotional distance–through humor, exaggeration, distraction.
4.help him come up with more rational, logical thoughts–Billy’s not really a poop-head, I actually like him. I just didn’t like what he did today.Or even if my friends all played with Billy today, he won’t be here tomorrow and they’ve been my friends for years, so we’ll probably play again. And no, I won’t be alone forever.
This is a useful technique that improves with age and experience. It gives the ADHD child one set of tools for dealing with emotions. It’s also helpful for ADHD parents!