All children have outbursts and will sometimes display a bit of rough behavior from time to time. But for kids with ADHD, having these outbursts may be more frequent and intense. These flare-ups typically aren’t dangerous — children may should, slam doors, or throw tantrums. However, there are instances where aggression in ADHD may surface.
Understanding and managing this aggression is key to helping children with ADHD. A combination of medication, therapy, other treatments, and support can help. Here’s everything you need to know about ADHD and aggression.
Aggression in ADHD
Kids with ADHD exhibit several behavioral symptoms that characterize the condition, such as fidgeting or an inability to focus. Occasionally, they may show hostile or angry behavior and can sometimes attack those around them either verbally or physically.
It is worth noting that another condition called oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) can frequently develop in children with ADHD. This is marked by continual defiance, nasty behavior, anger, and fighting with others, especially those in positions of authority or leadership in a child’s life. This can contribute to further aggression and violence in children with this diagnosis [*].
Signs of Aggression in a Child with ADHD
To be able to identify the signs of aggression in a child with ADHD, it is essential to first be familiar with some of the behavioral issues and symptoms linked to the condition. These may include the following:
- Lack of focus
- Easily distracted
- Not listening
- Unable to or unwilling to follow instructions
- The desire to move continually or fidget
- Unwillingness or unable to play quietly
- Constant interruption
- Does not wait for their turn to speak
The signs of aggression that may accompany the above symptoms in children with ADHD are:
- Temper tantrums
- Refusal to listen to authority figures
- Easily annoyed
- Deliberately irritates and annoys others
How to Help Children with ADHD Deal with Aggression
Many kids do grow out of being angry and aggressive, although it may take years. Early intervention such as anger management for kids can address these concerning behaviors and provides the best chance for success immediately and later on in life.
Model good behaviors
Parents and guardians can set an example for their children by exercising self-control and managing their own impulsive behavior. Additionally, it is good to discuss and resolve problems with children in group settings.
These models involve children’s teachers. Parents may want to evaluate if a teacher is really the best fit for their child. Kids with ADHD are more prone to respond aggressively when there is a poor fit between the teacher and the student due to misunderstandings. When children are raised in the proper circumstances and around the model examples (such as dependable adults), they develop a sense of self-worth that may lessen their frustrations and any resulting violent inclinations.
Practice expressing emotions positively
Aggression and ADHD often appear when children express their emotions negatively. Encourage your child to positively communicate their emotions. Children who are taught good emotional expression techniques as they grow up encourage others, do better in school, have better connections with their partners and friends, have better coping mechanisms, and have a generally healthier sense of well-being.
You can do the following things to support your child in expressing emotions more positively:
Be aware of your child's emotions. Sometimes it's difficult enough for an adult to describe how they're feeling; imagine how difficult it must be for a young child. Talk to them kindly while keeping an eye on how they act. You can aid your child in controlling his or her emotions by listening to them.
Understand that every action hides a feeling. If or when your child misbehaves, gently explore the cause. Anger is a secondary behavior that can reveal much about other thoughts, feelings, and experiences that lie beneath the surface. Using something like an anger iceberg worksheet can help you and your child figure out what’s really going on.
Encourage with praise. Never hold back from complimenting your child when they behave in a positive way. We often reprimand children without giving them the enthusiastic praise they need; sometimes it is necessary to do the opposite.
Lead by example. When angry, it is always good to take deep breaths and count to 10 as a way of soothing frantic or angry feelings rather than throwing things around, cursing, or slamming the phone. Your child will imitate your demeanor after watching you. The best method to teach your child how to manage their own emotions is to model it for them. You can also help them understand anger better by using a guided worksheet.
Work on compromise and negotiation skills
Children that have ADHD have trouble being flexible and accommodating. They don't find it enjoyable having to adjust to unfamiliar surroundings and regulations. Children with ADHD may also have a low threshold for annoyance and frustration, which means that in addition to situations and circumstances, they may also find it difficult to understand other people. They just struggle to transition from one attitude to another, which is not necessarily a result of poor parenting or the child’s desire to be intentionally difficult.
Parents can establish helpful rules that will teach their children how to compromise and negotiate. For instance, time on the computer or playtime can be considered as “currency” that is exchanged for chores and good behavior.
Reduce the use of electronics
Cut down on electronics. Much research is being conducted on what too much screen time can do to the body and mind. It’s not abnormal to find a person watching a Netflix show on a smart TV while glossing over email on a laptop and scrolling through Snapchats on a smartphone – all at the same time. This kind of behavior is mimicked by our children, so they grow up learning how to multitask on secondary and tertiary screens.
Unfortunately, some of the risks that come with too much screen time include screen addiction, serious eye strain, and other conditions. For kids with ADHD, too much screen time can actually make symptoms worse.
There is evidence, according to a study published in 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), that excessive screen time and technological use can exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD. Limiting a child's time spent in front of a device may be beneficial if they have already been diagnosed with ADHD, even though screen time does not cause the disorder [*].
You can use a timer or establish a limit on the number of hours your child spends using gadgets each day to reduce their screen time (the suggested amount of time is no more than two hours for the entire day). Offer substitute activities at the times of the day when your child would have been in front of a screen. For example, you and your child can take your pet for a walk, prepare dinner together, or try a new activity once a week.
Get some exercise
Even for children without an attention deficit, exercise is a terrific pastime. But it's especially beneficial for kids with ADHD and aggressive behavior. Exercise is a fantastic way for kids to let loose and relax as well as to let any pent-up stress and rage out.
Your child can do these activities alone, but it may be more fun to do them together:
- Going for a walk
- Joining a sports team
- Enrolling in a recreation program
- Martial arts
Exercise is just one of the natural treatments for ADHD. It may potentially lessen or perhaps get rid of the requirement for prescribed drugs that help with symptom management. It's a great method to temper hostility, too.
When to Seek Professional Help
Seeking professional help can be a sensitive topic. However, if your child’s irritation, disruptive behavior, aggression, and anger are harming their relationships, daily functioning, or self-esteem, it may be time to consult a professional.
The Bottom Line
Just as some people with ADHD may be angry and aggressive, there are times when the exact opposite of these behaviors may manifest. Some people could struggle to stand up for themselves, be shy, or have difficulty getting along with others. It's essential that people understand that ADHD is not a one-size-fits-all condition.
- Harvey A, Breaux R, Lugo-Candelas C. Early Development of Comorbidity Between Symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. 9 February 2016.
- Ra C, Cho J, Stone M. Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents. 17 July 2018.