Using CBT to Manage ADHD in Kids

ADHD tips: Teaching CBT self-calming techniques which children can practice to put “Mood Monsters” in their place.

Alex’s mother arrived to his weekly session teary-eyed. “Every day after school, Alex has horrible tantrums and in a bad mood, what can I do?” Children with attention deficit disorder (ADD, ADHD) experience more intense emotions and moods than the others and sometimes feels overwhelming sadness and worry.

Anxiety, agitation, anger outburts, and depression are the primary culprits of emotional dysregulation, a common symptom of ADHD.

Children  can be taught to control and handle their mood swings with CBT.  CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a kind of therapy which teaches children how to control behavior or moods by changing thought patterns.

Here is an example of how I have helped families manage the “Mood Monsters” using CBT.

Give a visible description to the mood. Going to school may be scary for  some kids. When you ask the reason for this, he or she may reply, “I don’t know.” Ask your child to make an illustration of what his or her terrible feelings seem to be like, giving an appearance to his or her anxiety. Recognizing the “fear” with an image makes it easy to manage or develop a positive coping tool.  If his fear is a scarydragon, then using CBT we can help him see that he’s a knight in shining armor.

Recognizing the feelings with a name. Naming sadness, anger, anxiety, or other types of feelings make it easier to manage. Without proper identification of the emotion, you can’t implement the right strategy to reduce the intensity.  To help your child learn to identify feelings, start with facial expressions. Take turns with you child pointing to faces in a book or magazine. Point out the different expressions and emotions  like anger, sadness and worry. Ask them to describe a time when they were experiencing such feelings. Then tell your child a time when you felt those feelings. By doing so, your child will learn that even adults experiences different feelings too.

Breathing techniques.  You can do these at night time to help your child relax before sleep. Once he or she perfects a relaxation or calming technique, he or she can use them to manage the Mood Monsters when dysregulated.  Here’s one technique you can use. Have your child lay flat down and tell him to tighten just one part of the body at a time. Start at the hands , then move to the arms, chest, etc.,  until his whole body is relaxed and calm. You can also play some mellow music which provides a calming atmosphere. You can also teach your child to breathe in and count to three, then breathe out.  Try this five times and any child will become calmer.

Visualization techniques. You can tell your child to think about happy times or a calm peaceful place.  One child my imagine himself playing with a bunch of puppies or the other would picture herself visiting a beautiful forest with lots of flowers and trees. If your child is fearful of particular situations (i.e., examinations in school) she could imagine herself passing the examination successfully.

Practice what you teach.  When children see their parents taking deep breath or recognizing their feelings, they will adopt such techniques to manage negative feelings.

Providing him positive encouragement by saying, “We can both do this together”; “Mommy and daddy will help you find a way to make everything okay.” Providing positive encouragement will show your child that you can find a solution together.