Is ADHD Causing Your Teen's Emotional Outbursts?
Having ADHD is emotionally exhausting for teens.
Life as a teenager can be pretty demanding. Keeping up grades, watching out for acne, managing a growing social reputation, and preparing for the grand adult transition can certainly take an emotional toll. Often teens with ADHD work extra hard to maintain focus and use appropriate behavior at school and work, which can lead to emotional “unloading” and attention dysregulation when they are home.
The emotional consequences of ADHD are often overlooked.
As psychologists and counselors that specialize in therapy with teens, we are very familiar with the emotional consequences of ADHD: impulsive eating, irritability, meltdowns and angry outbursts, excessive use of electronics and video games for self-soothing, difficulty focusing due to exhaustion and fatigue, lack of motivation, uncooperative behavior with parents and siblings.
Here are some strategies that we recommend in our work with families.
If you’re looking for counseling services for your emotional teenager with ADHD, our adolescent therapy specialists would love to help. Our office is located in the Irvine & Newport Beach region of Orange County, California. If you live nearby and would like to work together, give us a call. While therapy may be the best option for a teen with ADHD, parents and family members can help by modifying the environment at home in a way that supports emotion regulation in teens with ADHD. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
1. Set a family-wide routine: predictability helps teens with ADHD stay on track and reduces frustration.
Rather than leaving the day wide open, set a routine that the entire family can follow. The best way to get your teen on a routine is to get the entire family on board. Teens with ADHD tend to drift off into whatever activity grabs and maintains their attention. This is why the television screen and smartphone tend to reign supreme over your child’s day.
Try to provide structure and support in a way that promotes productivity, personal growth, and refueling for the next day. The consistency of the routine will help orient your teen to the task at hand and keep them from feeling overwhelmed by their to-do list. Here’s an example of a strong after-school routine:
After school snack time! Check in with your kids about their day and any homework that needs accomplishing while they munch on some veggies or other healthy snacks.
Homework and house chores! Let them choose if they want to start with their daily chore or their homework. Once they accomplish both, they are ready for some relaxation.
Free play! Now that the work is done, let the family move on to whatever activity they had planned for the afternoon. Just remind them that everyone will be coming back together for…
Family dinner! Research (see Fulkerson et al, 2006) shows that teens in families that have dinner together tend to have significantly better medical and mental health outcomes. So, gather the troops for some quality food and family bonding!
Togetherness activity! After dinner, encourage an activity that promotes continued together time as a family. The entire family does not need to do something as a unit per se, it can be a subgroup activity such as video games played with siblings.
Younger kids to bed! It is particularly important to allow some time with you as the parent without the presence of younger pre-teen siblings to allow for more adult conversation. Teens will also greatly appreciate that you are treating them more as a grownup and less of a child.
Keep to the curfew! Always, always, always have your teen go to bed and wake up at the same times. This will dramatically improve their quality of sleep and natural circadian rhythm.
Of course, you can (and should) leave space for flexibility so that your teen can be independent and make their own decisions, but this sort of routine scheduling can help rein in the symptoms of ADHD.
2. Take control of distractions: distraction leads to frustration, which leads to impulsive decision making, which often leads to more frustration.
Teens with ADHD may often feel overwhelmed by homework (Litner, 2003) and other requirements after school. This leads to impulsive decisions such as getting fed up and giving up - “I can’t do this,” “This is stupid,” “I hate this,” and so forth. Parents try to help however they can, but teens (with and without ADHD) can be stubborn.
One tactic that tends to work with ADHD symptoms is to take control of potential distractors. You might have to get creative with this, but here are the two most common culprits of distraction that you may want to address with your teen:
The Cellphone: This is likely the shiniest, most entertaining object your teen can access, and therefore the most powerful attention magnet. Although use of cellphones is the norm for our adolescent population, and so many teens feel they have the right to text/tweet/snap, you are the one paying the bill. Set rules about times when phones can be used, or have your teen check their phone into you during productivity time in exchange for some preferred reward. In some cases, that reward may very well be continued use of the cellphone.
The Internet: Just like with the cellphone, you are the one providing the finances for their access to this luxury commodity. Most, if not all, video games require an internet connection to play. You can help keep your teen engaged by restricting access to the internet until they can complete their homework and chores. Many parents do this by changing the internet password daily (which you can learn how to do by contacting your internet service provider) and providing your teen with the password once they are done with their to-dos.
3. Encourage physical activity: exercise can help teens with ADHD break down stress and improve their mood.
Just ask Michael Phelps’ mother – having a child with ADHD engage in regular physical activity can make a world of difference!
Encourage your teen to participate in sports or extracurricular activities that involve getting out and using some of that boundless energy and hyperactivity. If those are inaccessible or not preferred by your teen, try scheduling a family outing each week that involves something that gets everyone’s heart rate up.
Here are some ways you could do that:
Go on a hike or walk together
Try a new game, like frisbee golf
Head to the beach for an afternoon
Play horseshoes, bocce, or croquet in the backyard
Ask your teen what they would like to do!
Tip #4 – Ask for professional help: teens with ADHD can improve their emotion regulation skills through focused practice and effort.
You and your teen don't have to do this on your own. Psychologists and other mental health professionals are trained to help you and your teen manage the symptoms of ADHD at home. Emotion regulation strategies are available for teens with ADHD. With effort, diligent practice and support from family, friends and professionals, teens can learn to manage their frustration and stay on track.
Our team of adolescent specialists at OC Psychology Center, know how difficult it can be for parents of teens with ADHD, and we can help. Our office is located in Newport Beach, California. If you live in Orange County and would like to work together, get in touch with us. We would love to hear from you.