Childhood ADHD Feelings Chart

When your child has ADHD, they may feel intense emotions from time to time. This can make them act giddy or cranky, or do things that are inappropriate.

“I hear a lot of stories about him being silly and laughing, the class clown type. But not all kids have meltdowns and tantrums,” says Max Wiznitzer, 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 a child’s heightened emotions. In some children, the disorder presents with symptoms that make them excessive and impulsive. But it’s more than that, he says. The child’s environment can also influence his behavior. What’s more, ADHD can affect thinking skills called executive functions, making it difficult for someone to be “behaviourally flexible” and go with the flow, 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. It is also possible that they are being mistreated or bullied.

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If your little one acts out a lot, the first step is to talk to him about his feelings. “If they can name what they’re feeling, then we can think about why it’s happening,” says Wiznitzer. “Once you have those two pieces of information … it’s a lot easier to play into what you’re going to do.”

For example, if they say, “I’m stressed,” you can ask them, “What makes you feel stressed?” Perhaps they will tell you that they are having a hard time at school and are struggling to keep up with a class that is too advanced. In this case, you can talk to their teacher about things that might help, such as assistive technology or switching to a class that moves more at their pace.

Determining exactly what your child is feeling and why can also help your doctor make treatment decisions, Wiznitzer says. Your child may benefit from counseling, a higher dose of medication, treatment for mood disorders, or a change in the environment, such as at home or school. Call the doctor or a psychologist when you notice your child has mood swings that are affecting them negatively, says Wiznitzer.

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So, how can you help your child talk to you about his state of mind? A feeling chart can help. “A lot of times you can use images that represent emotions,” says Wiznitzer.

Click to download and print.

You can ask your child to point to a face on the chart that matches what they are feeling and take the conversation from there. Ask them what made them feel that way. Then work together to find a solution. Addressing the underlying reason that makes them act in a certain way can improve their behavior.

This feelings chart works best if your child is school age. According to Wiznitzer, this probably won’t help a 3- to 4-year-old who is still learning to communicate. – In such cases, the tea leaves must be read.