How to handle an angry child with ADHD

JamieTurner Mar 21, 2008 Health
Until just recently, the term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was virtually unheard of. Now, ADHD has gone from an obscure medical footnote to a household word in record time. Unfortunately, while this disorder is largely misunderstood, it remains the most prevalent chronic health condition among school age children. ADHD is frustrating, stressful, and can make even the most stoic person flustered. This article will examine some coping strategies on how to handle an angry child with ADHD.


Step #1

Understanding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a critical part of parenting or teaching a child with this disorder. ADHD, or ADD as it is often referred, is thought to be a neurological disorder that has been present from childhood and manifests itself through a variety of behaviors. These include hyperactivity, forgetfulness, poor impulse control, and distractibility. ADHD is thought to be a chronic syndrome—that is, one that can’t be cured—although it can be minimized and controlled. The question of how to treat ADHD is a constant source of discussion and debate in medical circles. Some advocate medication while others support behavior modification in order to minimize the symptoms. No clear-cut solution has presented itself, however, and the generally preferred mode of treatment is medication.

Step #2

If you look at how the core symptoms of ADHD can affect a child, it's easy to see how they’re linked to bad or aggressive behavior.
• Hyperactivity causes a child to fidget, run about excessively, talk excessively and have difficulty in playing quietly. It can cause a child to accidentally damage others' belongings, play too roughly and hurt other children.
• Impulsivity causes a child to blurt out answers, speak before thinking, interrupt, barge into games and have volatile moods. It can result in your child having a short fuse and to lash out when frustrated.
• Inattention causes poor attention to detail and problems with following instructions. A child with inattention problems may not appear to listen to requests.

Step #3

There are two parts to tackling any behavioral problem: encouraging the behavior you want through rewards, praise,  or attention; and, reducing the behavior you don't want with clear, consistent rules and quick punishments.

Step #4

Children with ADHD thrive on consistency and routines, so to improve the chances of good behavior, let them keep to their routine, such as getting up, eating or leaving for school at the same time each day. The most effective way of enforcing rules is to decide on them together with your child, so agree in advance things such as bedtimes, how long friends can come over and play for, etc.

Step #5

There are some very effective ways to reduce bad behavior. Get your child's attention. Address him/her by name and speak clearly. Keep commands short and simple. Give quick punishments that can be enforced immediately. It's not always possible to ignore bad behavior and focus on the good. Instant mild punishments, sometimes called 'negative consequences,' can reduce aggressive and angry behavior.

Step #6

Bad behavior often decreases when it costs your child something. The three main costs are time, money and undesirable consequences such as briefly removing your child from an activity he/she enjoys. Punishments can take various forms. 
• Natural consequences may be enough to stop the behavior. For example, if you throw your drink on the floor, you don't get another.
• Time-out can be helpful in dealing with tantrums. This is when your child has to sit out for a brief amount of time, usually about five minutes. For older children, a good rule of thumb is one minute for every year of age. The idea is to give your child a chance to calm down. An example would be to have your child to sit at the foot of the stairs or in a corner.
• Losing privileges such as allowance or games console can also discourage bad behavior. It's a good idea to limit these punishments to a set period—like one day, or one hour—so your child has a chance to start the next with a clean sheet.

Step #7

When your child has calmed down and returned to his or her normal self, talk to him or her and be clear about what was wrong and what you'd like to see changed.  You may be tempted to ask 'why', but with younger children especially, it's best to keep any analysis to a minimum. Often tantrums and anger are your child's way of expressing things she can't put into words.

Step #8

Over the next few days after your child was disciplined, look out for signs that he or she has corrected their inappropriate actions. If they have, tell them you're pleased that they listened to you.


  • There are social implications that accompany a disorder like ADHD. Consider that 21 percent of teens with ADHD skip school repeatedly, and 35 percent eventually drop out of school. ADHD children are also more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to get into accidents.
  • Where possible, make sure you give your child a good reason for the behavior you want. For example, tidying up your room will mean you'll find things more easily.
  • The main reasons why punishment fails are because it’s too severe, it’s given too late, or it’s inconsistent.
  • Be careful not to reward bad behavior. For example, items you buy after a tantrum on a shopping trip could be seen as a reward.
  • Keep consequences small and instant. It's consistency that's effective, not severity. Monitor the effect of the punishment given to a child who is misbehaving. If it isn't changing the behavior, it's time to try a different tack.


  • Medication can help ADHD, but you must modify other things such as environment schedule, and attitude in order to effectively deal with ADHD.
  • Avoid punishments that have the potential to harm your child either physically or psychologically. For example, keep from insulting your child publicly.
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10 CommentsAdd a Comment
frustrated on Nov 22, 2011
have the same problem. I am a single mom of a 17 year old. He has dominated me in every way shape or form and I am sometimes afraid. He has no interest in school, plays vid morn till nite, talks back to me and namecalls in the cruelest way. He has no interest in smoking or drinking and is a homebody. But in conclusion he is very disrespectful and it is a struggle everyday to cope with his outbursts. I feel so alone and helpless.
Msicwa on Oct 9, 2011
My son is now 17, we fight everyday, what do I do? He doesn't want to assist with the chores, he does nothing, he expects me to provide him with everything, he emotionally blackmail me, he backchats, he says the most hurting words to me.
frustrated on Nov 22, 2011
I have the same problem. I am a single mom of a 17 year old. He has dominated me in every way shape or form and I am sometimes afraid. He has no interest in school, plays vid morn till nite, talks back to me and namecalls in the cruelest way. He has no interest in smoking or drinking and is a homebody. But in conclusion he is very disrespectful and it is a struggle everyday to cope with his outbursts. I feel so alone and helpless.
Billy on Oct 24, 2015
If you can't take the game away, take away what you can. Turn the power off. Cut the breakers to the room he plays in or the main breaker to the house. Then see if you can talk to him while you are waiting for power to come back on. Also try to play with him in exchange for some time talking with him.
Rebecca on Sep 4, 2011
Hi my child is always hitting and pinching and biting other children I punish him by taking away favourite toys or taking him home if out and he hits I discipline him very well just the way HV have told me too but he seems to be getting worse now and his 3yrs 8 months some days his out of control and I don't know how to control him?
frances on Apr 21, 2011
I have a child in my care at his time who has ADHD and has lot of anger fights with me and can take a long time to calm down.Does not like to sit out when he is in trouble keeps getting out of room than throws things around,what do i do?
chris on Apr 9, 2010
Nice guidelines for the average developing child however I agree with June, ADHD children are very different when it comes to comprehension and reasoning as well as rewards and punishments. Many ADHD children do not feel or understand reward and punishment the way a typical child does (that does not mean we should not make every effort with these strategies as there are no absolutes and even if the strategy does not completely resolve the issue it may be partially effective). There is an underlying physiological imbalance in their brain that does not allow for typical executive function, which is what drives the ability to develop and learn appropriate behaviors. Parents with ADHD children should seek to correct the underlying problem or brain imbalance. The research over the last 2 decades has shown that there is an actual functional disconnection or desynchronization of processing between the 2 halves of the brain. There is some great literature on this and how the brain can actually change functionally which then allows for proper development of the child. Some good places to star are with books such as The Brain that Changes by Dr N. Doidge and Disconnected Kids by Dr R Melillo, or simply Google the terms 'functional disconnection syndrome, neuroplasticity'. The strongest parent advocate is an informed parent.
Cheryl on Sep 16, 2009
Illustrations are harsh. I always let my child calm down first and then discuss the punishment. It's comprehended then, although memory issues are included in ADD and the next similiar situation may be acted on impulse and it happens again. Then what?!
June on Jul 21, 2009
For general behavior problems, I'm with you. For anger in kids without ADHD, I'm with you. However, anger is a completely different animal when it comes to ADHD kids. Punishment increases the anger, and by the time the child has calmed down, many often don't know why they got angry in the first place. Anger attacks can be so random that the trigger may be completely benign or even unidentifiable. I do agree with Sarah; the illustrations are inappropriate.
Sarah on Feb 14, 2009
Good outline, but the corporal punishment illustrations could have been omitted.
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