Most children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD manifest incongruous behaviour: they are intelligent and astute, but their performance in the classroom is poor, they show disinterest, they do not remain in a physical listening position and even develop undisciplined and defiant attitudes.

In the following interview, Mireia Garibaldi, psychologist and psycho-pedagogue who collaborates with the Mensalus Institute of Psychological and Psychiatric Assistance, presents an interesting video about the problems that surround children with ADHD in the classroom. An emotional project that, we hope, will open a reflection on the necessary psycho-pedagogical tools.

Before reading the article, you can watch the video below:

How is the relationship between ADHD and emotional management?

Children with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) have significant difficulties in self-regulating and managing their emotions. Something that is not easy for most of them at first, is especially costly for them. To be more precise, one of the complicated tasks is the ability to internalize and reserve emotions. For this reason, children with ADHD sometimes express their feelings in an intense and uncontrolled way. Immature behavior (“he’s always clowning around”), inappropriate, changeable and even heavy (the externalization of the emotion lasts longer than in other peers). The adult finds it difficult to understand that this behaviour comes, among other factors, from the difficulty in emotional management, so the common outcome in the classroom is repetitive punishment: sanctions that label the child and place him/her in a highly defensive framework.

What is the most common emotion among children with ADHD?

When efforts are in vain, the result is a sea of frustration. This can seriously affect one’s self-concept. The video we present today rightly claims the importance of “not pointing out” the child with ADHD. In their developmental and maturing process, it is crucial to avoid actions that make them feel constantly judged. If all fingers are pointed at daily, they may grow from an anxious and insecure base, and end up forming a very deteriorated self-concept that leads to low self-esteem.

You were telling us about a defensive frame in which the child is enclosed…

Right. A defensive framework born of the fear of being hurt again. It is common for the child to defy the authority figure and manifest himself in an irreverent way. As we said, when this happens, the punishment is the main tool (“go out of class”, “today you have no playground”) and again the child is discriminated against and catalogued as “the bad guy”. The consequence? Frustration reaches unsuspected levels and its management becomes “mission impossible”.

What can happen then?

Before assuming a new failure, one of the most used strategies is lying (for example, lying to justify not bringing the homework done). Likewise, it is common that the outcome of difficult emotional self-management is a behavior full of anger and irritability that is visible physically (kicking, jumping, grimacing, etc.) and verbally (bad responses to teacher’s guidelines). The child with ADHD is very dependent on the environment. The child with ADHD is very dependent on his or her environment. The self-regulation of his or her emotions and behavior responds more to the stimuli he or she receives than to his or her own thoughts (something that is already common in infants). In any case, the difficulty in doing a job of introspection and attending to one’s own thoughts distances one from tools such as event analysis, reflection and goal setting. For this reason, it is essential to help your child.

How can we help the child with ADHD?

Through the use of more attractive and visual strategies that promote emotional expression and collaborate in such internalization. When the child manages to understand what is happening to him or her, that is when he or she takes the first step towards emotional self-regulation. Training the child in this sense is essential, since otherwise he or she may enter a spiral of sadness and negativity that distances him or her, not only from academic goals, but also from the context of friends and peers.

On the other hand, children with ADHD present a significant difficulty in motivation. They have serious problems in starting the prescribed tasks and sustaining the activity until its completion. This difficulty is accompanied by a high need to be rewarded in the short term (mainly after tasks that are not particularly attractive and do not generate an instant reward). Returning recognition to the child makes it easier for him/her to remain connected to the context (e.g., a game, a sports activity, a math exercise, etc.)

From Psychopedagogy we advise parents and teachers to establish a system of recognition through positive messages. The lack of internal motivation is the main driver of the lack of objectives and self-discipline to achieve them.

Having said that, what message could we leave with today?

As the video shows, it is important that children with ADHD perceive social approval from their immediate environment through rewarding messages, words that bring them closer to others and do not label them as selfless or other derogatory labels that diminish their sense of ability. They are emotionally dependent on positive recognition and, of course, they need us adults to make their job easier.

Understanding the child with ADHD is the way for him to do it too.