Dealing with Anger in Your ADHD Child

parenting kids with adhd

Slamming doors and stomping feet are ways that many kids respond to unpleasant situations. But ADHD kids are more likely to resort to anger, which can upset family harmony. Here are some steps you as a parent can take to prevent your ADHD kid from reaching the boiling point.

Know the Cause

Knowing what fuels your ADHD kid's anger can make the problem seem manageable. The two main sources of anger in ADHD kids are internal and external. Internally, these kids are impulsive and lacking in self-control. This is what makes them overreact to situations that non-ADHD kids might take in stride.

Being impulsive, your child doesn't often think before she speaks. Because she lacks self-control, a simple request from a parent or teacher or an unexpected change in schedule might push her to the brink. She erupts in anger without ever pausing to consider a different response.

The traits your child lacks--thinking before speaking and holding emotions in check--require executive function, or thinking processes, which don't come naturally to children with ADHD. Couple these deficits with disorders such as anxiety and a tendency to dwell on negative experiences that ADHD kids exhibit, and you start to see how even minor disruptions during the day can ignite a struggle.

Identify the Triggers

Perhaps you've noticed a pattern of behavior in your child that signals he's headed for a blow-up. Pouting, lying, intruding on others, and jumping into arguments are just a few common triggers for what is known as active anger. There's also passive-aggressive-anger, which your child can manifest by showing forgetfulness and inattention, by refusing to do chores at home or school, and by faking an illness.

face of little boy

Parents can learn to spot these triggers by keeping a log of when their children become angry, what caused the anger, and what behavior patterns the children displayed leading up to the outburst. Maintain the log for about a month, says ADHD specialist Edward Hallowell, M.D. Then review it, looking for patterns. The point is to know when to jump in so you can prevent your child from escalating into anger.

For example, the log might show your child tends to erupt when the following combination of events occurs: playtime is over, she wants to avoid starting homework, and you've just asked her for the third time to make her bed. If those events caused anger once, chances are they will again. But now that you've spotted a pattern, you have a chance to avert a meltdown.

The Power of Words

The words, 'I'm so angry I could throw that chair across the room,' might not be what you want to hear from your child during an argument. But if he's able to express that feeling in words, he might not be inclined to act it out. Translating angry feelings into words can temper raw emotions. Unfortunately, it's a skill that ADHD kids don't have.

According to Edward Hallowell, M.D., ADHD experts urge parents to explain what they see during an angry exchange with their child. Vocalizing the scene you're witnessing might help to control it. Describe it simply, telling your child 'you are becoming too agitated' or 'I really don't like the tone of your voice right now.' Even if your words don't prevent an explosion, you are at least making your child aware of behavior she might never have thought she displayed. Reminding her of it later on could make her think twice about acting that way again.

father and son

The next step is to have your child verbalize her angry thoughts. 'One of the more common reasons a child loses control is that he is unable to articulate his frustration,' says Dr. Hallowell. During an outburst, ask your child to tell you what he feels like doing or what he's thinking. Try to remain calm, no matter how startled you are by his answers. The point is for him to learn how to express anger in words rather than in actions. In effect, you're becoming your child's word coach.

Exercise Can Blow Off Steam

Another successful intervention for controlling anger is to enroll your ADHD kids in organized sports and clubs, says expert Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D.

Research on ADHD and exercise, though not definitive, shows that physical activity improves symptoms associated with this learning disorder. Dr. John Ratey is another expert who recommends adding exercise to the treatment mix for ADHD kids. Exercise works on the brain, says Dr. Ratey. It supplies two chemicals--dopamine and norepinephrine--that boost the brain's ability to focus and think clearly.

Cultivate a Habit for Compromise

Would you give an algebra problem to a first grader and expect him to solve it? Of course not. And neither would Dr. Ross Greene, a child psychologist and creator of the Collaborative Problem Solving Model. Greene doesn't expect kids to display skills they don't have. And it's lack of skill, in his opinion, that causes some kids to explode.

'Your role is going to change,' Dr. Greene tells parents who attend his workshops. 'You won't be in the 'behavior modification' business anymore, you'll be in the problem-solving business instead.

Greene's model involves the entire family. Through a series of workshops, parents and their kids are taught how to get into each other's heads. They learn to approach problems by first addressing the concerns each has. Kids are encouraged to participate by being told that the solution won't necessarily favor the parent. After both sides brainstorm solutions, they agree on which sounds best.


The crux of Greene's model is that ADHD kids who find themselves in uncomfortable situations will likely explode because they were never taught other ways to respond. Just as a teacher considers a child's mathematical skills before assigning homework, so too does Dr. Greene consider what problem-solving skills a child has before asking him to collaborate.

No doubt that Greene's model isn't a quick fix. Learning how to engage your child in problem-solving takes patience and a commitment to training. But in the end, it may pay off if compromise rather than discord becomes a way of life. Perhaps the best part of Greene's model is not only that you and your ADHD kids arrive at an answer, but that you've modeled problem-solving along the way.

By Michele Vrouvas
February 2017
parenting kids with adhd parenting tips & tricks

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