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Understanding the Emotional Turmoil of ADHD in Children

The emotional aspect of ADHD is profound, yet frequently underestimated. While children with ADHD undergo similar emotions as their peers, theirs are more frequent, intense, and enduring. ADHD affects the underlying brain mechanisms responsible for emotional management, causing a delay in emotional regulation development. This results in swift and overwhelming emotional responses, often leading to significant overreactions. Additionally, children with ADHD find it challenging to self-soothe, requiring more time to calm down and move past emotional grudges.

Parents often share that dealing with their children's outbursts and intense mood swings is their most significant challenge. Emotional dysregulation, a prevalent symptom of ADHD, profoundly impacts well-being, family dynamics, academic performance, and career success. It contributes significantly to low self-esteem and social difficulties, surpassing other ADHD symptoms. Moreover, emotional dysregulation tends to persist into adulthood, escalating with age, emphasising the crucial need for early intervention.

Emotional brain vs the Cognitive brain

The contrast between the emotional brain and the cognitive brain is pivotal when addressing interventions for emotional regulation in ADHD. Conventional approaches, relying on the cognitive brain's executive functions, prove ineffective and even counterproductive for children with ADHD. Executive dysfunction, common in ADHD brains, leads to association errors, with the cognitive brain often promoting problem behaviors and subsequently justifying them.

To illustrate, a child with ADHD might react impulsively and ineffectively, such as hitting a classmate who cheated in football, feeling justified in teaching a lesson, despite warnings from the teacher not to hit before recess. The cognitive brain, influenced by the emotional upset caused by the cheating, struggles to make a better decision in the heat of the moment.

Another challenge lies in the fact that engaging the cognitive brain is demanding and tires quickly. For instance, working on a writing piece can deplete a child's cognitive resources, leaving them with limited capacity to make sound decisions during break time on the playground. Children with ADHD may manage to keep their composure at school but experience meltdowns when they return home. As any parent can confirm, attempting to prompt rational thinking, identify the "red zone," or employ calming strategies during a meltdown is often ineffective.

For children with ADHD, a more efficacious approach to imparting self-regulation skills involves tapping into the potency of the emotional brain.

The emotional brain possesses immense power. Unlike the cognitive brain, the emotional brain is boundless. Emotions gain strength with increased usage and prove more compelling motivators than reason. The emotional brain operates more swiftly than the cognitive brain, and emotions are contagious—observe any child in the midst of a tantrum, and you'll witness a swift rise in parental frustration.

During moments of distress, the emotional brain consistently prevails over the cognitive brain. For children with ADHD, whose emotions are inherently more automatic and intense than their peers, emotion tends to dominate all cognitive processes and shapes subsequent actions in any given situation. Frequently, they may either react with outbursts or disengage entirely. In essence, children with ADHD struggle to employ their cognitive brain during emotional turmoil. Therefore, leveraging their robust emotional brain becomes an advantageous strategy.

How to Nurture the Emotional Brain for Better Regulation

When it comes to managing emotions, the most effective strategies are proactive and positive. This is particularly crucial for kids with ADHD who put in a great deal of effort to perform well and maintain control. Unfortunately, they may still find themselves overreacting and receiving more corrective feedback than their peers, which can be quite disheartening.

Since toning down negative emotions requires significant cognitive effort, a more effective approach is to enhance positive emotions. This is easier to accomplish and increases the chances of success. Many of the positive parenting techniques you're likely already employing—such as introducing novelty, using rewards, and making tasks engaging—also work well in fostering positive emotions. Why? Because these activities elicit helpful, feel-good emotions that contribute to motivation and persistence.

In any situation, proactively regulating positive emotions not only helps curb problematic behaviors but also comes with the added benefit of boosting self-esteem and cooperation.

Example the daily morning battles about going to school, especially because lunchtime was stressful. To help them overcome this challenge, we tap into the childs emotional brain by giving them something to look forward to at school instead of focusing on worries.

In the evenings, shift your focus to strengthening the cognitive brain. Before bedtime, work on coping with anxiety. Talk about strategies for dealing with worries when they arise (making them more predictable), review how to problem-solve various scenarios—such as what to do if they had no one to eat with at lunch or if their friends didn’t want to play a game they suggest during break time.

This is a very short articile highlighting some of the many tools and techniques to pull in to help you and your child through ADHD. Need more help? Please reach out and ask about by 1-1 coaching for children and parents. It can be tough, but just know you are not alone.

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