Three Promising Ways to Manage Meltdowns for More Calm with ADHD


Even though temper tantrums and meltdowns are common in childhood, when you live with ADHD and related conditions, screaming, yelling, hitting, and other challenging behaviors, can be depleting, exhausting, and frustrating for everyone. 

As you try to calm your child, the opposite tends to occur, only escalating the situation further, and provoking an arduous, stressful, and exasperating situation.   


The ADHD Brain and Emotions


The amygdala is in the limbic area, which is the central area for emotions in the brain. When the brain senses danger or threat, the amygdala is responsible for responding. 

A threat can be real or perceived, such as:
• Emotional Overwhelm
• Anxiety
• Sensory Overload
• Energy Depletion 
• An unmet need, such as the need for connection, or downtime

When the amygdala receives a warning, it sends a “fight, flight, or freeze” signal to the brain. The fight or flight response shows up in the form of energetic, fast movements, kicking, yelling, or screaming, which can be tough to settle down. (The freeze response can show up as withdrawn, or distracted, behavior.)

The prefrontal cortex houses the executive functioning area of the brain. This is the brain’s self-management system.  


Both kids and adults with ADHD can get so bombarded by their emotions that their frustrations take over. This happens when the amygdala sends danger and stress signals to the brain that flood the self-management system, making it tough to self-regulate. While the amygdala develops from a very young age, the executive functioning system and the ability to self-manage do not fully develop until the age of 28-30. 


The intensity of a tantrum or meltdown takes over, triggering an even stronger reaction for both of you. Even as you try to reason with your child, the stress your child experiences because of the meltdown gets in the way of their not yet fully developed capacity to regulate themselves. 

Still, even with your fully mature brain, the chaos and overwhelm you may experience during these stressful situations impacts you as well. Your amygdala sounds the alarm when your emotionally charged child has a meltdown, which in turn sends you into fight, flight, or freeze.  Your body becomes flooded with stress hormones, dispatching your brain into emergency mode. The situation spirals and you also feel like you’re about to explode.

This gap between the fight or flight response to real or perceived threats, and the capacity to self-manage those responses for both kids and parents, create overwhelm, frustration, chaos, and stress for everyone.

Here are three promising ways to manage meltdowns when you live with ADHD, so you can have more peace and calm in your family.   


Calm Yourself First 

Choose to calm down by pressing pause.


Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom. - Victor Frankl


To rewire your brain’s tendency to overreact to threats, press pause to allow yourself to shift the way you respond.  This isn't easy, especially when you’re really upset, but unless there is no imminent danger, even if it feels like there is, your job is to calm yourself first. 

Let’s say you’re trying to get out the door to be on time for school and work, yet again. The kids are arguing from the minute they woke up and you’re at your wit's end.

Quick Tips:

Stop and pause.

Breathe deeply through your nose and out through your mouth.

Notice the story you're telling yourself: "They’re always making things stressful for me," "They should know our morning routine by now. " "Why are they doing this to me? " "I can’t handle this."

"• What's a different story you can tell yourself?: “They’re doing the best they can." "They’re having a tough morning." "Their brains are developing." "I’m not going to take this personally." "We're working on this."

Don’t beat yourself up for being angry. Anger is Ok. What’s important is what you do with your anger.     


Acknowledge and Connect

When your child feels overwhelmed with feelings they don't know how to express, they feel unsafe, upset, and angry, and tend to act out.


When we respond to our distressed, angry child with empathy, understanding, and compassion, we build trust, and strengthen our relationship with them, and home life is so much calmer. 

Quick Tips:

Acknowledge and normalize your child’s experience. When your child is upset, let them know it must be tough to experience what they’re going through. Whatever it is they’re feeling, it’s OK and “normal” to feel the way they do, even if it doesn’t feel very good. 

• Let them know you’re there for them.  

Connect with your child by building opportunities into your day that you can count on to be together, such as afternoon snack time, a regular story before bed, dinner as a family, etc. 

Create “special time” with your child and put language to the “special time.”

Construct a loving tone in your home. This can be accomplished with morning and/or welcome home hugs if your child enjoys touch, or the aroma of traditional cooking, or favorite foods to name a few. 

Reflect and Problem-Solve 

Once you and your child are connected and calm, you can reflect on the situation that triggered the meltdown. 


Reflection must be done with acceptance of the full range of your child’s emotions, which will in turn help your child with self-regulation. Acceptance does not mean you agree with your child's behavior, rather, it means you are meeting the emotions your child is feeling with a neutral attitude and without judgment. 


Your role-modeling will not only teach your child’s brain how to safely connect and emotionally regulate but will also help your child shape how their brain responds to real and perceived threats.


Quick Tips:

Rather than jumping in by fixing, disapproving, punishing, shaming, or blaming, author and coach, Laura Markham recommends trying not to get upset by your child’s emotions. adapted from John Gottman’s emotion coaching). 

With a neutral attitude, help your child reflect on the situation by responding with:

Noticing: “It sounds like you were so disappointed that your team lost;” “you seemed really upset when you couldn’t stay up to play video games.”

Listening: “Tell me more.”

Empathizing: “not getting an invitation could really hurt your feelings.” 

Validating: “No wonder why you’re so worried!”

Setting limits on behavior, even while allowing emotions: “I can see how angry you are. Tell her but use appropriate words.”

• Teaching self-soothing while honoring emotions: it’s okay to feel disappointed. What can you do to take care of yourself while you feel this way?”

Problem solving: After your child has calmed down: "It sounds like you’re sorry about what you said. What can you do to make things better with him?”

-    Adapted from Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Laura Markham, based on the work of John Gottman, psychologist


To sum up, although temper tantrums and meltdowns are common every now and then, when you live with ADHD and related conditions, these challenging behaviors can be depleting, exhausting, and frustrating for everyone. To have more peace in your family:

Calm Yourself First

Acknowledge and Connect

Reflect and Problem-Solve





PS. Need support with calming the overwhelm so you can have a more peaceful family life? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we’ll get you started right away!


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