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  • Writer's pictureTricia Thornton

The Emotional Ups and Downs of ADHD

Hi, I am nine years old and I am in the 3rd grade. I have ADHD and I feel lots of different emotions all day long. I thought it would be helpful for you to know some of what it feels like to be me! IF you don't know, ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I know it is a mouthful, so we shorten it to ADHD. Recently, psychologists decided to not use ADD and just use ADHD, but there are three different types: Combined Presentation (with inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity), Predominantly Inattentive Presentation, and Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation. I have the combined type. So, that means I have a hard time focusing, and I can be hyper and say or do things without being able to stop quickly. However, I have learned how to help myself and cope with guidance from my teachers, doctor, therapist, and parents. Each day, I have lots of feelings such as, sadness, anger, confusion, fear, and happy! My mom and dad thought I could help other parents and children by telling you more about when I have these emotions and what I do with them.

Now, I’m actually “getting out of character” and am writing as Tricia Thornton, LPC, RPT. As you read above children with ADHD do have a variety of emotions all through the day. I’ll be explaining about each feeling and ending with some helpful interventions.

Sadness - A child with ADHD can experience a great deal of sadness, and if it goes unaddressed can turn into depression. Studies report that almost 20% of children with ADHD suffer from depression. The sadness can come from a variety of situations. Children with ADHD are often misunderstood or accused of not trying hard enough, and in turn cause a child to have low self-worth and low self-confidence. The nine year old child above in the vignette may feel sad when his teacher says, "You need to focus more on the task at hand. You seem to be just wondering away." He may quickly then become sad and that can turn into frustration and anger.

Anger - Often anger is a mask for sadness. A child who quickly starts to feel not good enough then will become frustrated at oneself and toward others. The anger is then exacerbated as the child enters into a state of dysregulation. The mammal brain can begin to dominate, causing the child to react from a freeze, fight, and/or flee state. The child could become angry in just seconds. Parents often report their ADHD child goes from 0 to 60 in just 3 seconds. Then, the parents also begin to act out of their emotional brain as well. Once the child is not in control of their anger, the impulsivity symptoms of ADHD can begin to dominate a child's behavior.

Confusion - The sadness and anger can also lead to confusion for a child with ADHD. He/she becomes disoriented to how to get back on task and to not act out of impulsivity. The ADHD child often feels frustrated because he/she can sense when they are not focusing, causing a feeling of unbalance. The nine year old mentioned above may actually become confused when the teacher redirects him back to focus because there was a lapse in understanding of the directions for a task. Once the child then feels lost in class, a fear will kick in that maybe he/she will get in trouble.

Fear - Similar to anger and sadness, fear will ignite the amygdala in the limbic system of the brain to go into overdrive. It is like the emotional brain then takes over driving the car, causing the child to become dysregulated. Fear is a catalyst for many impulsive actions to increase, which will then send a child with ADHD into a spiral of all the emotions mentioned above (sadness, anger and confusion).

Happy - It is important to point out there are lots of moments of happiness as well for a child with ADHD. Once a child begins to learn to channel their energy into a positive direction, the praise and encouragement to keep balance increases. Children with ADHD often becomes hyperfocused, motivating a child to be loyal and passionate. Many of the most successful people in the world have been diagnosed with ADHD. Charles Schwab and Michael Phelps are just two that have learned to channel their energy and focus.

There are many interventions that have been studied and used to help a child with ADHD to manage their emotions. One that I have used as a therapist is balance training. It is relatively new in the field of neuroscience to link strengthening the cerebellum and the increased function of the prefrontal cortex region of the brain. It is in the frontal lobe of the brain where skills such as executive functioning are signaled. Balance training and the use of yoga increase the strength of the cerebellum. A couple of fun ways to work on balance is playing hopscotch and standing on one foot. There are many apps for yoga for kids that are easy to follow. Mindfulness has been proven to increase the cognitive and emotional brain "muscles". There are many activities that children enjoy, such as starfish breathing, coloring mandalas. digging in the dirt, listening to music while stretching, and even knitting. When movement is combined with mindfulness training, the brain responds with more focus. An increase of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, helps to calm the ADHD brain. Parents of children with ADHD can use timers to help the child learn to focus, plan and strategize, and learn impulse control. Many children with ADHD are sensitive to loud noises, so be sure to find a timer with a sound that is soothing. Confer with the child before using the timer to make sure they are aware of the sound and the purpose of the timer.

The emotional ups and downs of a child with ADHD can be challenging yet rewarding. Parents of children with ADHD need to be sure they are receiving support. There are many wonderful resources for parents. and are two of my favorite organizations lending guidance to parents and children. Once a child learns to unlock the joy of having lots of energy, they can then positively face the various emotions that come their way. Children with ADHD have beautiful gifts that once discovered will thrive into adulthood.

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