Psychologists often use pictures of faces to help describe emotions. Do these describe your child’s emotions?
Really mad or really happy with no in-between? People who have ADD or ADHD feel emotions very intensely. They are rarely “mildly disappointed.” People around them can quickly get worn out by the emotional firestorms. It is also very wearing on the ADD or ADHD person.
To treat this, I like to use a number scale, with each number representing a degree of emotion.
Zero might represent no anger, one would be mild irritation, all the way to number 9, which is the angriest you can be. Then I ask the ADD person to think about how much anger the situation warrants. One of my ADD patients responded that he “always did a 9 anger level!” He was right! He had to learn to use the steps in between.
Then I have the student label the behaviors that are used at each level. At a 1, there just might be a brief facial expression. At a 3, he/she might make a negative comment like “Oh Darn!” Five is beginning to look like real anger, with facial grimaces and raised voices. At seven, we change our speech patterns, our volume and increased bodily tension. At eight and nine, we begin yelling, making strong gestures and using strong words to explain his/her feelings.
ADD/ADHD does impact our emotional expression. It is important to teach students to modulate their emotions. It cannot be done without practice before the situation actually occurs. In fact, it takes many repetitions and some coaching, to begin to get this internalized. However, it is well worth the effort.
What should a parent do?
- Instead of yelling at your “emotionally intense” child, teach him/her how to modulate emotions. You could say, “this only warrants a 3 response” and help him/her understand what that would look like.
- Make sure you notice when he/she reacts appropriately and give approval and encouragement.
- Don’t give up—this takes time.