How do I deal with my child's intense emotional outbursts that come with ADHD?

People with ADHD can go from 0 to 100 on the emotional scale, whether that be anger, frustration, sadness or joy in a split second.   When intense emotions take over the brain, we call it an amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the emotional center in the brain and when overloaded,  can trigger an irrational, emotive response.  Fight or flight hormones are secreted, the body tenses, heart rates escalate, etc.   It is a full SIX SECONDS before the rational side of our brain kicks in.

The challenge is to find a way to help your child wait those 6 seconds so that they can respond more appropriately.   I have two techniques that have worked at my house.   The first one is for younger children and the second one is for older children and teens.   

The one for younger children is a more effective version of the simple counting to 10 that you may have already tried.    When I tried teaching my son to count to 10, he  would count as fast as he could and then start punching because the counting only took him about 2 seconds.   

This technique, however, slows them down, so that the 6 seconds can pass, and they can make better decisions.   Basically, I would have him recall, visualize and name 6 objects.   For him, it might be trains from Thomas, Rescue Heroes or Star Wars characters.   I would say, “Chris.   6 trains.”   And, because we had practiced this in advance, he would start thinking about trains and name them while counting on his fingers, “Thomas, Percy, Gordon, James, Toby, Henry.”   Not only did this slow him down, allowing 6 seconds to pass because he had to engage recall, it also got him visualizing something other than what he was upset about.  In addition, it gave me a way to help him process these intense emotions without invalidating them by just saying, “Calm down.”    

How did I get him to buy into this?     I explained that we (because I, too, have ADHD)  are very passionate people   As very passionate people, we feel all emotions very deeply.   When we are happy, we are VERY happy, when we are excited, we are VERY excited, and people love to be around us.  But, on the other side, when we are sad, we are VERY sad, and when we are angry, we are VERY angry, and that sometimes scares other people, and causes us to make poor decisions before we give ourselves time to think about what we should do.   So, when we are feeling “out of control” there are things we can do to give our brains time to start making good decisions again.  Believe me, children don’t like feeling that they are out of control any more than we like seeing them out of control.   They welcome ways to calm themselves.   

For older children, I like a technique developed by the Heart Math Institute called Freeze Frame.   


These are the steps of the Freeze Freeze method: 

Put a hand on your heart

Pretend heart is breathing as you inhale/exhale

Move focus onto feeling in heart area and away from thoughts

As calmness returns, try to remember a positive experience from the past

Ask the heart to use common sense and intuition about how to handle the situation

Listen to the heart.  Allow heart to be a satellite for the brain.

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