Childhood ADHD Emotion Chart

When your child has ADHD, he may experience intense emotions from time to time. It can make them act cranky or aggressive, or do things that aren’t appropriate.

“I hear a lot of stories about being silly and smiling, kind of the class clown. But not all babies have meltdowns and tantrums,” says Max Wiesnitzer, MD, a pediatric neurologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, OH.

Wiznitzer treats children with ADHD, and she says several things can play a role in increasing a child’s emotions. In some children, the disorder causes symptoms that make them hyper and impulsive. But it is more than that, he says. A child’s environment can also influence their behavior. Additionally, ADHD can affect thinking skills called executive functions, making it difficult for someone to be “behaviorally flexible” and stay on track, Wiznitzer says.

Children with ADHD who have tantrums or meltdowns may also have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, she says. They may also be mistreated or abused.

If your toddler plays a lot, a good first step is to talk to them about their feelings. “If they can name what they’re feeling, then we can think about why it’s happening,” Wiznitzer says. “Once you get those two pieces of information … it’s a lot easier to play what you’re going to do.”

For example, if they tell you, “I’m stressed,” you can ask them, “What makes you stressed?” Maybe they’ll tell you they’re having a hard time at school, struggling to keep up with an overly advanced class. Then you can talk to their teacher about things that might help, such as assistive technology or moving to a class that moves more at their own pace.

Noting how your child is feeling and why can also help his doctor make treatment decisions, Wiznitzer says. Your child may benefit from counseling, a higher dose of medication, treatment for a mood disorder, or a change in the environment at places like home or school. Call a doctor or psychologist when you notice that your child’s mood swings are having a negative effect on him, Wiznitzer says.

So how do you help your child talk to you about their thinking? A sentiment chart can help. “A lot of times you can use pictures that represent emotions,” Wiznitzer says.

Click to download and print.

You can ask your child to point to the face on the chart that matches what they are feeling and continue the conversation from there. Ask them what made them feel that way. Then work together to find a solution. When you address the root cause that makes them act a certain way, it can improve their behavior.

This emotion chart may work best if your child is in school. That probably won’t help a child who is 3 or 4 years old and still learning to communicate, Wiznitzer says. “In those cases, you should read the tea leaves.”

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