ADHD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is common in school-age children, with three times more boys diagnosed than girls.1 As a parent, you are already aware that it can be challenging to manage children with ADHD, but remember that you are not a bad parent, nor is your child a bad person.
Children with ADHD have difficulty controlling their behavior without medicine or behavioral therapy. And some have problems controlling emotions and behavior even with therapy and medication.There are different types of ADHD, each with their own patterns of behaviors in children.1
ADHD, Inattentive. Symptoms such as:
- trouble paying attention to details
- making careless errors in schoolwork or other activities
- have trouble staying focused
- listening problems
- trouble following instructions
- problems with organization
- tend to avoid tasks they dislike or which require mental effort
- tend to lose things frequently such as schoolwork and toys
- easily distracted and forgetful
ADHD, hyperactive or impulsive. Signs such as:
- fidgeting and trouble remaining seated
- excessive running and climbing
- difficulty playing quietly
- always seeming to be “on the go”
- excessive talking and interrupting
- trouble waiting for a turn or in line
Other children may have a combination of these symptoms.
ADHD and Aggression
All children can lose control of their emotions from time to time when they are feeling angry, hurt, frustrated or sad. But some children with ADHD have negative feelings that are stronger and which last for a longer period of time:
- May have difficulty controlling their emotions at all
- Impulsive behavior becomes aggressive behavior
- Have trouble thinking about the consequences of their actions
- Less likely to learn from their mistakes
- Tend to see small problems as though they are very large problems
- Hard for them to keep their frustrations in perspective, and in check
- When upset, children may “act out” or lash out – in verbal or physical ways
- Have trouble calming themselves down
- Lack the skills to soothe themselves that other children their age may develop
Aggressive behavior is not typical of a child with ADHD.2 These more extreme behaviors are called ADHD with impulsive aggression. This ADHD behavior is commonly referred to as “acting out”.2
Life at home and at school can be disrupted by angry behavior such as screaming, shouting, hitting, kicking, and throwing things. Many children with ADHD may be medicated for their symptoms, but still have trouble controlling their emotions and behavior.
Coping with a Child with ADHD and Aggression
Managing a child with ADHD and impulsive or aggressive behavior usually involves some combination of counseling, lifestyle changes and medications.
- Try to remember that your child or teen has a behavior challenge, but is not trying to be difficult. If your child has trouble processing or expressing verbal and nonverbal language, your child may be having problems with social skills such forming and maintaining relationships. Some children drift off during conversations and miss social cues. Some others have difficulty managing their anger. All of this can lead to your child feeling misunderstood and possibly facing social rejection.3
- Try to talk with your child when he or she is not frustrated. See what may be causing the frustration and if there are things that might make him or her feel better. You may even want to talk with your child’s teacher about any problems that are noticeable at school, such as bullying or other problems with peers. Find out if bullying or some other social situation is happening at school that is upsetting your child. It is helpful to know what kind of situations make your child react and act in an aggressive way. This can help you prepare your child how to problem-solve in the future when presented with a similar situation.
- Talk with your child’s counselor and doctor for their suggestions about ways to handle verbal and physical behavior, and discuss other health issues besides that may be affecting your child.4
2. Keith E. Saylor, PhD, ScM and Birgit H. Amann, MD: Impulsive Aggression as a Comorbidity of AttentionDeficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC47792. Accessed August 2017.
3. Psychology Today. Social Challenges of Children with ADHD. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/growing-friendships/201503/social-challenges-children-adhd. Accessed August 3, 2017.
4. ADHD Living Today. Aggressive Behavior in ADHD Children. http://adhdliving.today/adhd-living/aggressive-behavior-adhd-children. Accessed on August 2, 2017.
5. Steiner H, Saxena K, Chang K: Psychopharmacologic strategies for the treatment of aggression in juveniles. CNS Spect. 8:298-308, 203 [Pub Med} and Connor DF, Carlson GA, Chang KD, Daniolos PT, Ferziger R, Findling RL, Hutchinson JG, Malone RP, Halperin JM, Plattner B, Pst RM, Reynolds DL, Rogers KM, Saxena K, Steiner H: Juvenile maladaptive aggression: A review of prevention, treatment, and service configuration and a proposed research agenda. J Clin Psychiatry 67:808-820, 2006 [Pub Med] 6. Hubbard JA, McAuliffe MD, Morrow MT, Romano LJ: reactive and proactive aggression in childhood and adolescence: Precursors, outcomes, processes, experiences, and measurement. J Pers 78:95-118, 2010 [Pub Med] 7. Saylor and Amann – Impulsive Aggression as a Comorbidity of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents. J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2016. https://www.docphin.com/research/article-detail/18163269/PubMedID-26744906/Impulsive-Aggression-as-a-Comorbidity-of-Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder-in-Children-and-Adolescents. Accessed on August 3, 2017.