Tantrums and outbursts are a common occurrence amongst most children growing up, but for children with ADHD and tantrums, these occurrences are more frequent and challenging to control. The complexities that surround and follow children with ADHD often make it a lot harder to pinpoint the triggers of their tantrums, but once identified it can assist parents and peers in understanding what the child is trying to convey and/or express. Within the following article we will look at some of the common tantrum triggers for children with ADHD as well as the do’s and do nots in those situations.

The first trigger we will be looking at, and often the most common reason for children with ADHD to have an outburst or tantrum, is emotional conflict. Emotional conflict refers to the difficulty children with ADHD experience in regulating their emotional behaviour and when paired with strong emotions such as disappointment, frustration and anger it doesn’t take much for outbursts to be triggered.

The best way to handle tantrums that arise from emotional conflict is to establish a clear and efficient line of communication, in which the child feels they are safe to express their emotions and in turn that how they are feeling will be acknowledged. It is beneficial to encourage children with ADHD to express themselves as it can not only assist them in learning to share and process their emotions orderly, but it can also allow you as a parent to gain insight into what events and scenarios will trigger outbursts and certain emotions within your child.

The second trigger is often referred to as a sensory overload. Sensory overload can be defined as “getting more input from your five senses than your brain can sort through and process” (Unknown, nd). Sensory overloads can result in outbursts or tantrums due to the child believing it is the best way to relieve the stress, anxiety and external demands they may be experiencing.

As a parent being aware of what environments trigger outbursts can be very beneficial as it not only allows you to avoid those environments but also if those environments are unavoidable to gain a bit of an upper hand. This can be done by either explaining and preparing your children for the environment through describing what they are going to experience [visually, audibly and physically] or through providing incentives for good behaviour. As mentioned earlier creating a safe and open communication channel is vital as it allows your child to feel as if they have some aspect of control over the environment.

So now that you are aware of the main triggers of outburst as well as the “do’s” in those scenarios, what are the “do not’s” when it comes to ADHD children and tantrums. The first and most important one is, don’t get angry. Anger is a natural response when dealing with a defiant child, but it rarely solves the issue. Instead of resorting to anger, providing your child with love and support allows them to not only feel safe but know that you are in control.
With that said the second “do not”, is do not get emotional. Allowing your child to see that their behaviour has some control and influence over the response that your give will in turn encourage them to make their tantrums and outbursts more frequent. It is often easier said than done but keeping a blank face, speaking in a normal toned voice and remaining calm not only masks your emotional response but reinforces that you as the parent are in control of the situation.

Sabrina van Wyk