I read an article on Understood.org by Kate Kelly ADHD and Aggression: What You Need to Know. I wish I had read this article on ADD and aggressive behavior earlier in my parenting career because it would have been nice to confirm my personal experiences. Hitting, throwing objects, screaming, falling on the floor, or refusing to do what’s asked are all behaviors that kids with problems regulating their emotions can demonstrate. It’s confusing. What did I do wrong? Why is this happening to me? Am I a good mom? So often as parents we think our child’s aggression is directed at us, but when you have a child that has difficulty managing their emotions and who is also impulsive it’s not always about you. What I learned through research, my professional education and what this article confirms is that lagging executive function skills in emotional regulation, poor communication skills, and impulse control can have a major impact on family life. Knowing how to deal with ADHD and aggressive behavior is not in many of the parenting books.
But it’s not enough to know that lagging skills are the cause. What do you do? What I learned over time is as follows:
In the moments when your child is out of control:
Take care of yourself
Breath -( take a minute)
Don’t create a negative story about their motivation- They aren’t doing this to make your difficult. (even though it may feel like it at)
Stay open- Know in your heart that, “If they could do better they would”
Remember they may be behaving this way because they can not manage their emotions.
Remind yourself that this will pass
Take care of your child
Stay calm and speak quietly.
Stay with them
Acknowledge their feelings if it does not escalate the behavior
Assure them they will be okay ( They are probably scared too)
Take a break
For single parents, it’s not easy to take a break, but if you have family members, let them help. If not find a safe way to separate from your child to allow them to have the chance to calm down. Maybe leave them in a room with soft music, a book, or just go into another nearby room. They need you, but it’s better to leave then to stay and do something you regret. Society does not give single parents support, so we have to do figure how to do that for ourselves.
Some or all of these steps may not work for you it’s okay. You are still a good parent even if you don’t manage the episode well, but you will need help. Schools have social workers, speech pathologist and psychologist that can evaluate and teach your child executive function skills and give them tools to help them manage. Managing ADHD and aggressive behavior can be quite a challenge. They will get better at managing their emotions as they get older, but it takes work. Don’t expect the problem to fix itself. Try to figure out whether your reaction is improving the problem or making it worse. If your reaction is making the situation worse think of alternative ways to respond. Can you be less demanding? Give more choices? When the conversation becomes increasingly heated can you just be quiet? Are you giving too many choices? Talking too much? Not talking enough? Can you recognize when you will get the big reaction? What can you do to change your communication style?
There are books on executive function skills that will help you understand the underlying problem your child is having with ADHD and aggressive behavior. If you prefer and can afford a professional that is great, but if you can’t let your primary care physician know what is happening and ask for a neuropsychological evaluation and therapy sessions. If needed get therapy for yourself. It’s not just your child’s problem. Work on your own communication style and learn to understand your own reaction. If your child is out of control and you are worried about ADHD and aggressive behavior try changing eliminating sugar and processed foods from their diet, make sure they get enough rest and cut down on screen time, in addition to seeking help to manage ADHD and aggressive behavior.
Even if your child does not have an official diagnosis of ADHD, they can still have characteristics of ADHD. Because of our society obsession with productive, lots of kids are having difficulty with regulating their behavior. No gym time in school, too much screen time, too much sugary and processed foods…. Truly when so many children have a diagnosis then it becomes a normal state, and that is almost the point we have come to with ADHD. If your child has some of the characteristics of ADHD and they are aggressive try some of the strategies and tools I’ve used.
Finally my last piece of weird advice. I love the “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan. It’s on Saturday mornings in my area, but how he changes the behavior of dogs is through teaching their owners how to interact with them. Kids aren’t dogs, but they are not adults. What is the energy you bring to the situation? Teaching them often means having to teach ourselves how to interact. I am fascinated by “The Dog Whisperer” because he often talks about the energy you bring to the room. Don’t let your fears cause your child’s behavior to escalate. Lead by showing them how to deal with their feelings and if you haven’t learned yet, now is a good time. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have your feelings under control. Just think this time as a great opportunity to learn. Children feed off our energy. So dealing with ADHD and aggressive behavior means figuring out how to remain calm while being with your child in a way that helps them learn to calm themselves. It won’t be an easy road, but you don’t have to learn it all in one day. Remember you are not alone, and one day you will look at your beautiful child and forget these difficult times.
Here are a few books I have read that helped me understand lagging executive function skills
Smart but Scattered by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
The Explosive Child by Dr. Ross Greene
Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, Second Edition by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
Tools you may want to try to help with calming:
Pressure vest PresSureVest gives hugs to those needing a little extra sensory input. Ideal for deep pressure therapy. Some children need extra sensory information to calm down this is a great tool for that.
Please if you have other ideas or things that have helped your family please share them. We all have information that can help each of us.