— Blog

When ADHD kids become violent

There are many possible responses for what to do when ADHD kids become violent. Out of those responses, which approach works and will ultimately reduce a child’s violent tendencies overall? Some responses enable the inappropriate behavior or escalate the situation further. Some teach a child how to manage their aggression.

It has been observed that the connection between ADHD and aggression reduces as a child ages, but negative patterns can still remain if left unaddressed. There is a lot that can be done now to teach your child new, appropriate behaviors that will maintain a positive relationship with the child.

Why ADHD kids are more aggressive

There are several explanations for why ADHD and aggression coincide.

One reason is that children with ADHD have high energy levels. This increased physical energy can transfer to aggression when the child becomes angry.

Another reason violent outbursts in ADHD kids are common is because of their quick emotional responses and the subsequent difficulty in managing their emotions. When an ADHD child does not get what they want or has to wait their turn their anger escalates instantly. They often don’t recognize their emotions escalating, just suddenly that they feel intense emotion. Then when the emotion is present they struggle to regulate a more calm response.

Another symptom of ADHD is the lack of consequential thinking. Many children are able to think about the consequences of hitting another person or breaking an object, but children with ADHD don’t consider the consequences. This ties into their difficulty of controlling impulses. When ADHD kids become violent it is not usually a thought-out process. They feel the impulse to hit and then react immediately.

Aggression can also manifest if a child is taking an inappropriate dose or type of medication. Before giving your child ADHD medication consider all the side effects and watch for signs if you do decide to medicate.

What not to do when ADHD kids become violent

If ADHD anger issues do arise with your child do not react with yelling, or mirroring aggression physically or verbally. Of course, there will be times when as a parent you will not react appropriately, but you can work to reduce the occurrence of negative reactions. Make time to care for your own well-being to reduce stressors so you can be in a positive state when interacting with your child. Work to release control over your child’s responses. How they respond does not mean you are succeeding or failing as a parent. Even with the best parenting techniques children will still react negatively sometimes. Reducing your own reactivity so as not to escalate the situation or model negative behavior.

A part of managing your own reactivity is avoiding putting your child down through name-calling or comparison. Both of these labels contribute to a child feeling shame, which will never motivate them to improve behavior. If a child feels hopeless and inferior they will lose confidence and a belief that they can overcome negative tendencies.

Do not give into what your child wants because of their violence. Enabling does not teach them to manage emotions. It gives them the power to control situations, which actually amplifies aggression when they don’t or can’t get what they want other times. It will set them up for conflict with other authority figures who will not accept aggression. They will also learn that violence and aggression are okay and not learn how to appropriately get what they want.

Also, avoid blaming the anger on ADHD. Don’t make the diagnosis become a label and an excuse for negative behavior. It is good to know the differences in an ADHD brain to provide empathy and to set realistic expectations for your child. However, ADHD does not limit your child’s ability to learn and improve their social skills and responses.

What to do when ADHD kids become violent

Now that you know what not to do, it’s best to focus on how to deal with difficult behavior when it arises. In the moment of escalation, do not focus on consequences. Your sole focus will be calming your child down. This can be done by using a cyclical pattern including 4 responses in any order:

  1. Giving a praise or empathy statement
  2. Using Observe and Describe  to objectively point out their negative behavior(s)
  3. Give small behavior-based instructions
  4. Taking a break

As an example using the 4 responses: 1.“I know you’re upset you can’t play with your friend (empathy)” OR “good job keeping your hands to yourself” 2. “But you are stomping on the ground and yelling” 3. “I need you to lower your voice and sit on the couch.” 4. “I will wait in the other room until you can do that.” Complete the cycle as many times as necessary until your child calms down.

Once your child has calmed down use Correcting Behaviors (LINK) to explain what they did inappropriately and what to do the next time. Once they understand this takes time to role-play the appropriate response, including a reduction of the consequence for participating.

If anger is a continual problem help your child figure out the root cause of the anger. Do they only become violent in a specific type of situation? Who are they with when they become angry? What is happening before the aggression starts? Then you will know what skills to teach your child. Teaching preventively is more effective than calming in the moment or giving consequences after. Teaching skills that address anger management, communication, how to follow instructions, how to accept a “no” answer, how to wait their turn, etc. address the common causes that lead to anger. Role-play new skills several times so your child understands and uses it naturally.

Other contributors to anger

A few other options that can be explored when finding the root cause of anger:

  • Adequate exercise
  • Good nutrition
  • Reduction of screen time
  • Removing the audience during outbursts
  • Relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness
  • Amount of sleep
  • Other people reacting inappropriately when your child becomes violent

Knowing how to respond when your child becomes violent will greatly heal your relationship. You will react in a calmer way and your child’s aggression will reduce. Explore what works best for you and your child and then be consistent in the application every time your child becomes violent. Consistent teaching and responses will help your child learn to manage emotions over time. 

For more information about ADHD and anger, listen to ADHD Smarter Parenting Podcast #7: ADHD and anger issues in kids or watch the podcast on YouTube.