Do you play the “Blame Game?’

How many times have you engaged your ADD/ADHD son or daughter in a “discussion” of who is at fault. If you have, you already know that he/she never takes responsibility. Instead, the entire focus is on who “really” is at fault.

Many families have told me that the blame/responsibility arguments can go on for hours. Unfortunately, there never is any resolution. People with ADD/ADHD cannot cognitively understand their own contributions to the problem. They cannot tolerate the self criticism implied in the blame. It is always someone else’s fault.


My Advice?

Don’t engage in this type of argument.  It is a waste of time and you will not succeed in convincing anyone. Instead, when a problem arises, consequences can be assigned without any mention of blame. If something occurs, a broken window for example, parents would announce the amount of money each participating child would need to repay. No “blame” would be assigned or discussed. If the ADD student insisted it wasn’t his/her fault, the response would be that no-one said it was his/her fault. The outcome was that he/she had to repay a certain amount. In this way, the discussion of blame was avoided but responsibility was assigned.

Second, don’t argue about statements where your ADD/ADHD child blames someone else. If he/she says, “It’s Mom’s fault I didn’t have my homework,” ignore the blaming statement. Instead, restate it asserting that he needs to keep track of his homework. Pointing out that he is always blaming someone else will trigger an argument and will obscure the main idea, that his homework is HIS.

Good News!

Over time, most ADD/ADHD people learn to accept at least some blame for their actions, but this usually does not occur until early adulthood. Until then, resist the temptation to play the Blame Game!


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.