When your child has ADHD, he may experience intense emotions from time to time. It can make them act dizzy or boisterous, or do inappropriate things.
“I hear a lot of stories about you being silly and laughing at, the class clown kind of way. Not all kids have meltdowns and tantrums,” says Max Wiznitzer, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Children’s University and Children’s Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio.
Wiznitzer treats children with ADHD, and says many things can play a role in amplifying a child’s emotions. For some children, the disorder causes symptoms that make them hyperactive and impulsive. But he says it’s more than that. The environment around the child can also influence his behaviour. In addition, ADHD can affect thinking skills called executive functions, making it difficult for someone to be “behaviorally flexible” and to go with the flow, Wisnitzer says.
He says kids with ADHD who experience tantrums or meltdowns may also have another mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is also possible that they may be mistreated or bullied.
If your child is acting out a lot, a good first step is to talk to him about his feelings. “If they can name what they’re feeling, we can think about why it’s happening,” says Wiznitzer. “Once you have those two pieces of information… it becomes much easier to role-play what you’re going to do.”
For example, if they tell you, “I’m nervous,” you can ask them, “What makes you nervous?” They will probably tell you that they are having a hard time in school, and are struggling to keep up with a class that is too advanced. In this case, you can talk to their teacher about things that can help, such as assistive technology or switching to a class that moves more quickly.
Determining what your child is feeling and why can also help his doctor make treatment decisions, Wiznitzer says. Your child will likely benefit from counseling, a higher medication dose, treatment for a mood disorder, or a change in surroundings in settings such as home or school. Contact a doctor or psychologist any time you notice your child is experiencing a mood change that is affecting him or her negatively, Wiznitzer says.
So, how do you help your son talk to you about his state of mind? A sentiment chart might help. “Often, you can use images that represent feelings,” Wiznetzer says.
Click to download and print.
You can ask your child to point to a face on the chart that matches how they are feeling, and continue the conversation from there. Ask them what made them feel this way. Then work together to come up with a solution. Once the underlying reason for them to act in a certain way is addressed, it can improve their behaviour.
This sentiment chart may work best if your child is of school age. Wiznitzer says that probably won’t help a child who is 3 or 4 years old and still learning to communicate. “In those cases, you have to read the tea leaves.”