Few things can ruin an afternoon as quickly as ADHD temper tantrums. You could be enjoying a nice afternoon at home or out shopping at the store and the dreaded meltdown can strike. No place is safe, and many times, it seems like you can do little to see the chaos coming. As a result, you really need to know what to do if your ADHD child throws a tantrum in public or at home.
We do know that most ADHD tantrums have a trigger, which sets things off. If you know your child well, you most likely know most of what triggers the worst breakdowns. Knowing when a tantrum might strike, though, only gets you so far. To complete the picture, though, you also need to understand how to respond once the meltdown begins.
We’ve brought together some of the best “do’s” and “don’ts” for responding to ADHD temper tantrums. While different personalities will affect some of how you respond, these general tips can provide a good place to begin. We’ll start with strategies on how not to respond. We’ll then finish with the best strategies for what to do to resolve ADHD temper tantrums.
What Not to Do: The “Don’ts” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
Many times when we find ourselves in a chaotic or upsetting situation, we tend to react instinctively. For many parents, the most chaotic upsetting situations they can imagine would be the public meltdown. When out at the store or in a restaurant, the temper tantrum from your child can cause embarrassment, stress, and anger. When caught in the moment, though, most of the time, the last thing you want to do is respond instinctively.
In order to respond positively, you need to know what to avoid in your response. For that reason, let’s start with looking at the “don’ts” of ADHD temper tantrums. You should try to avoid the following things when a meltdown begins—
Don’t Get Angry
The first “don’t” for resolving ADHD temper tantrums is that you can’t get angry. Our natural response when faced with a disobedient child might be to respond in anger. Anger, though, rarely resolves anything quickly or well.
While anger does have a purpose and an appropriate environment, that appropriate place isn’t in the midst of a tantrum. What your child needs from you as a parent is to know that you are in control and can provide safety for them. They need to feel love and support. Anger, though, usually communicates the opposite. Instead of telling your child that you love them, anger teaches them to either fear or resent you.
If you find that you get angry when your child throws a fit, get some help in working through those emotions. Many times an angry response comes from feelings you have outside the immediate situation. We all need to learn more ways to help keep our anger in check.
If you find that you get angry often, even with slight infractions, seek out a friend or counselor to talk through your emotions. Make sure that your anger towards your child isn’t displaced anger from other events in your life.
Don’t Get Emotional
The main thing to help resolve ADHD temper tantrums involves you, as the parent, remaining calm and rational. You might have more feelings about your child’s behavior beyond anger, but in the moment you need to do what you can to keep those emotions out of your response. Most of the time, in the heat of the moment, emotions do more to cloud your thinking than they do to help resolve anything.
Screaming, crying, or complaining how your child ruins everything just alerts your child that they have some control over your response. You never want to communicate this when faced with a meltdown. If your child believes, even for a moment, that their behavior has gotten to you, they will go back to that behavior again, making tantrums more frequent.
Instead of giving into emotions, keep a calm blank face and speak in a normal calm tone of voice. If you find you can’t do this right away that’s ok. You can take a moment to compose yourself. Close your eyes or turn your back to your child to do this. This both helps hide your emotional response as well as demonstrates your control over the situation.
Don’t Get Even
Sometimes we as parents want to get back at our kids. We think our kids have embarrassed us so we should now embarrass them and teach them a lesson. More often than not, though, the only lesson our kids learn in those moments is that we as parents can behave immaturely as well.
Getting even, or trying to embarrass our kids, never helps with resolving ADHD temper tantrums. Instead of getting even, we, as parents, need to focus on finding an effective solution instead. Don’t dwell on how much your child has embarrassed or disrespected you. While these things do matter, you, as the adult, still must rise above the petty response for a response that will help the situation and your child.
Your child behaves immaturely because they are young and immature. As the adult, you have to behave like the adult and not respond instinctively or simply to get even.
If you find that this always appears as your first response, practice some techniques to calm yourself down. For instance, try counting slowly to 10 before responding at all. Alternatively, you could take several deep breaths or step away for a moment before coming back. Do whatever you can to avoid responding in a way simply to get even with your child.
How to React: The “Do’s” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
Now that we have an understanding of what not to do when a meltdown occurs, we now need to get strategies for an appropriate reaction. Learning how to manage ADHD temper tantrums appropriately takes both time and patience. In the midst of a meltdown, emotions tend to run high. We, as parents, still want to respond quickly, and possibly irrationally, in order to make the behavior stop quickly.
We need to be careful, though, in how we respond. While some responses might seem to work in the short-term, overall they can make the behavior worse and the tantrums more frequent. The following include some great recommendations on exactly what to do when ADHD temper tantrums occur.
Do Get Prepared
Like the Boys Scouts, parenting’s motto needs to be always be prepared. Parenthood presents so many opportunities for things to go different from planned. This means that no matter where you go with your children, you need to always be prepared. Prepared for what? Prepared for the worst to happen.
Whether you go shopping or plan to go to dinner, you need to prepare for managing ADHD temper tantrums. The first part of planning ahead involves simply getting yourself in the right frame of mind. If you believe that everything must go perfectly all the time, then you don’t have the right frame of mind. Instead you need to mentally think about things going badly and a meltdown happening with your child. Having the frame of mind that everything will go well makes it almost certain that you will respond poorly when the meltdown happens.
Secondly, you need to know your child’s triggers and know ways to divert them if a meltdown seems imminent. You know your child better than almost anyone. You more than likely know what sets them off most. Think of those situations and try to avoid them when you go out. If avoidance isn’t possible, then bring along something that you can use to redirect them if you have to.
Finally, to always be prepared, you need to always have a backup plan. Having kids means making sacrifices. Some environments will simply set your child off. Perhaps, your child feels uncomfortable or out of place and they respond with a tantrum. As a parent, you might have to simply make the sacrifice and leave the event that you’re at or take a substantial timeout to give your child more attention.
Do Get Calm and Clear
For an ADHD temper tantrum episode to calm down, cooler heads need to prevail. You as the parent need to lead this shift from chaos to calm. Many times your child throws a temper tantrum in order to test your control over the situation. They want to force their will by testing your response.
As a result, how you respond impacts how quickly you can resolve a meltdown. When your child starts a tantrum, you need to demonstrate you have complete control over the situation. You display this through your demeanor, and what you say and how you say it.
When ADHD temper tantrums occur, you need to stand up straight and look your child in the eyes. Speak in a clear and calm voice and tell your child directly that their behavior is unacceptable. Give your child clear examples of why their behavior is inappropriate and tell them exactly the consequences for continued disobedience.
Through responding in a calm and clear manner, you can more quickly resolve ADHD temper tantrums. Your child will naturally feed off your emotions and actions. If you behave irrationally and angry, the tantrum might just get worse. On the other hand, if you respond in a calm way, your child might start to calm down as well.
Do Get Loud
In addition to testing your control, another driving force of temper tantrums is to get out feelings. As parents, we shouldn’t fight against this motivation. We all need to express our emotions, good, bad, or indifferent.
Additionally, we need to teach our children appropriate ways of dealing with the emotional symptoms of ADHD. Our bodies need us to get out and express emotions in order to reduce stress and tension. When we don’t get our emotions, they don’t go away. Instead we bury them letting them grow and fester until we explode.
ADHD temper tantrums are an unhealthy way of releasing feelings and emotions. In responding to the meltdown, you don’t want to teach your child that expressing emotions is wrong. Instead, you want to redirect the incorrect expression to a correct manner and time for expression.
After you have resolved the immediate tantrum, give your child a time and place to get their feelings out. When you get back home, tell your child they can express themselves in their room at an appropriate time. Let them yell to let their emotions out. Demonstrate it for them if helpful. Be sure to emphasize that they can get loud and scream, but only in appropriate settings. Reinforce this idea by reminding them when a tantrum occurs and redirecting them towards appropriate releases of emotion.
Do Get Help
Finally, to appropriately manage ADHD temper tantrums in the long run, you need to get help. Help can come in a number of ways and from a number of sources. One great source of help can come from other parents of ADHD children.
Other parents can provide a wealth of knowledge and resources for what to do in meltdown situations. If you don’t already belong to a neighborhood or online support group for parents of ADHD children, you should seek out one now. Refer to local community resources for local groups or look online at articles like this or this one for online communities.
A second great source of help should come from family and friends. You should let your immediate circle of support in on the situation. Let them know the triggers for your child and what tends to set them off. Ask your friends and family to try to help reinforce your tantrum management strategy when they are around your kids.
Lastly, a final source of help for managing ADHD temper tantrums can come from professionals who see your child. This could include your family doctor and any teachers or counselors in your child’s life. Ask them for advice if you see an increase in the number of tantrums. They may have suggestions on additional behavioral management strategies or recommendations for medicine or other approaches.
Finding the Right Balance for “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for Managing ADHD Temper Tantrums
As a parent, you quickly learn that parenting exposes all your failures and weaknesses. No matter how successful you are in business or in other areas of life, you will find a lot of failures in yourself when you try to parent. Many first time parents would undoubtedly agree that they have never encountered something quite as hard as parenting.
All this is to say that you probably won’t get managing ADHD temper tantrums down on your first try. You will have some successes and some failures. Some days you will feel terribly defeated, while other days you will feel that you do everything right.
The key, though, should be continual growth. Continue to work towards improving and getting more resources. You won’t get it right immediately, but with practice, soon enough you will find the right balance between the “do’s” and “don’ts” and will soon manage ADHD temper tantrums like a professional.