Welcome to Normal
Have you ever been so angry you've literally seen red? Or so frustrated that you could scream? Maybe so sad or stressed that curling up in a ball on your bed is the only activity you think you can handle?
Guess what? Welcome to being normal!
Everyone gets knocked down by emotions from time-to-time. In an ADHD family, “from time-to-time” emotions can seem constant. And sometimes, intense emotions can get so overwhelming that you get stuck or hyper-focus on them.
Why does this happen – and how can you loosen the control of a stuck emotion?
Overwhelming Your Brain
It's dinnertime. You ask your kid to put down the tablet and set the table. She doesn't. You remind her. She doesn't. You yell. She gets scared, angry, frustrated. Normal evening in an ADHD house, right?
What happens next? Her anger takes over. But here's the surprising thing. She stays angry because she has a deficit in working memory.
When someone with ADHD becomes hyper-focused on an emotion, it's hard for her to remember anything else. The part of her that wants to listen to you and behave well is completely overwhelmed by the frustration and anger she's feeling at the moment. That's often why kids yell at us, or act “disrespectfully.”
Not just kids, really. It's true for all of us! Many parents have what Dr. Thomas Brown calls “Angry Dad Syndrome.” (Moms, we're not immune either!) It's exacerbated if we, too, have ADHD. Think about it: your kid didn't do as she was told, was scolded, and lashed out. She now hyper-focuses on her anger – and you hyper-focus on yours.
This emotion overwhelms your brain, and you can literally forget how important it is to stay connected and nurture a positive relationship with your child. Of course you know how critical your relationship is with your child. But in that moment, your brain cannot shift its focus.
Getting Back on an Even Keel
So if your ADHD child is triggered and stuck in emotions, and so are you, how can you get back on an even keel? Take a breath and realize that your kid may not be acting disrespectfully. Her emotions may actually be out of her control. Instead of anger, try compassion and understanding. It can be a hard shift to make in your mind, but it is one that will help you cope with these situations more effectively.
Put the drama on hold. The issue or challenge will keep. Right now, just focus on getting your kid out of this hyper-focused emotional state. When she's ready, and you're ready, you can talk about the issue with more calm – and with a better shot at a positive resolution.
So calm yourself down first, and then help your child use strategies for self-soothing. It may be several deep breaths or taking a sip of water. For a young child, you might say, “Why don't we sit on the couch together for five minutes? I'll put my arm around you, and we'll read a book. We can talk about this later.” For a tween or teen, it may be encouraging them to listen to a soothing song on their iPod or hop in the shower.
The reality is that, as humans, we all get upset. We all get frustrated, angry, sad. But what we don't always understand or teach our kids is that it is normal, that it's ok. We don't necessarily want to “stop” these emotions; we want to learn to manage them in a healthy way.
You're not going to solve anything when you or your child are in a state of emotional overload. Take the time to calm down, and implement systems and structures that facilitate self-soothing for your ADHD family members dealing with strong emotions. Work on it together; the entire family will benefit!