I remember when my son was about 3 years old, a friend made a comment to me about how happy he was at the park. And it was true. His faced beamed as he came down the slide. His giggles could be heard all over the playground. He was a happy, happy boy. And then it happened. Another child (a little older, maybe 7) told him he could not play with her and her friends.
In an instant, my happy, giggly boy was furious. He stomped across the playground, hands on hips, fire in his eyes, to inform me that a little girl had been mean to him. When I asked what she had done, he reported: “She said I’m a TODDLER!! I am NOT a toddler. I am a PRESCHOOLER!” It took a good 30 minutes to calm him down and convince him to continue on having fun for the rest of our time there.
Thinking about this event still makes me laugh, when I picture his mad, pudgy face proclaiming he was not a toddler, but this funny little story illustrates perfectly the emotional swings my boy has dealt with his entire life. I have often said that when he is happy, he is the happiest child in the world. But when he is sad, mad, or frustrated, he is the saddest, maddest, or most frustrated child in the world.
Along with the emotional instability that often accompanies ADHD comes a heightened sense of justice. These kids are black and white. There is no gray, no middle ground, and very little compromise. They know when things are right and they know when things are wrong. And they are often bothered beyond what they can handle when things are wrong. The wrong doesn’t have to be perpetrated against them either. These kids can get as riled up over injustice played out on a friend as much as when it involves themselves.
Here’s a more recent example of how quickly things can go south for ADHD kids.
One evening as I was quietly reading, my son came storming through the door, in tears. I could tell from his face that they were angry tears, not those signifying any kind of physical hurt. He was practically hyperventilating. The anger had boiled up from his toes and was spilling out all over my wood floors. He was screaming insults about a neighborhood child, but he was so upset, I could hardly understand his words.
As is usual, I sent him to the shower to calm down. Generally speaking, 10 or 15 minutes in there gives him time to calm down, think about how he’s behaving, and he’s ready to come back and speak to me about what happened in a calmer voice.
In this particular incident, he was angry that one of the neighborhood kids was not following the rules of the playground game they were playing. Things had escalated to a point that he needed to walk away because he was so angry (a technique he has been taught to use in incidents such as these). When he did that, the child then called him a rage-quitter. In an effort to not be a known as such a thing, he stayed, the argument continued, and eventually this child raised a hand at him in a threatening way. Because the child was a girl, he did manage to leave at that moment, fearing things would really get out of hand and he would hit her.
Now, for most typical children, things would never have gotten this far out of hand. Most kids would have called out the other child for cheating or not following the rules, and either the child would have then complied with following the rules, or the kids would quit playing the game with her.
But children with this heightened since of justice have difficulty letting things like this go, and ultimately it will almost always lead to drama. And for most, remorse, as they realize, once again, they have over-reacted. Unfortunately, it also leads to difficulties with relationships.
While your child is at home, calming down and feeling remorseful, the other children are telling their parents and each other about the child down the street who gets angry for no good reason. And if one of the parents happens to see the anger exhibited, it’s likely that he may no longer be welcomed at their house. Or maybe a co-op, birthday party, or homeschool playgroup.
There are a few possible reasons that kids with ADHD experience such intense emotions:
- Chronic lack of sleep is very common with ADHD kids
- Low self-esteem
- Medication side effects
- Extra energy
There are also a few things you can do to help these kids deal with their emotions:
- Provide opportunity for much physical exercise
- Limit television and video games, and closely supervise what they are exposed to (please don’t let your kids play violent games or watch violent television/movies)
- Help your child understand what his triggers are
- Intervene, if possible, before things get out of hand
- Give them a break to calm down
Rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (Colossians 3:8)