You are currently viewing ADHD in children and ‘bad’ behaviour

ADHD in children and ‘bad’ behaviour

I hate when children with ADHD are labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘bad’ children.  I literally want to scream from the rooftops that their behaviour is normal for ADHD.  That their behaviour is their way of communicating what they are feeling.  For our children with ADHD, they have difficulties with impulse control.  Toddlers do for example.  They will throw themselves on the floor when they have simply had enough.  Sometimes when I have had enough, I would like to do this and thrash about a little, but luckily for me, I have impulse control and I can recognise that this would be inappropriate. 

But children with ADHD don’t have this.  Their executive functioning is delayed in maturing and the result is impulsive behaviour.  What they feel gets displayed, immediately.  They don’t have any lead time before telling you what’s up like most children.  Oh no, they will show you there and then.  They are the most honest little beings ever in a sense.  They are showing you their emotions, not concealing them. 

The problem with the understanding surrounding ADHD is that people tend to think of it as an attention or hyperactive issue.  Which yes, it is, but it is so much more.  Whilst the anger and lashing out is not actually a symptom of ADHD it can be a result of it.  I wrote a blog on the ADHD brain which talked about the developmental differences in the ADHD brain.  I won’t write about all that here, but please do take a read. 

Our children with ADHD find it difficult to endure tasks that are boring, repetitive or use up a lot of their executive functioning.  To be fair, many of us do.  But the difference is we can tolerate it.  We can be motivated by the fact that the task may be important, rewarding or that there may be a consequence involved if we don’t complete it.  This is enough to prompt us into action.  Children with ADHD don’t see it like this.  They can become extremely overwhelmed, may get angry, frustrated and/or violent.  This is the impulsivity side that they cannot control as maybe other kids their age can.

Children with ADHD can be very emotional, super sensitive and feel things so deeply.  Emotional dysregulation is a very common symptom.  They find it so hard to regulate the emotions they are feeling and hence the anger, violence, and tears.  This can be super embarrassing for them too.  They know how they have reacted to something, that maybe their peers have now witnessed.  Of course, they don’t want to do this; they simply can’t help it.  This can cause trouble for them to form peer relationships.

I think what we need to remember is that children with ADHD are not trying to be bad, angry or defiant.  They don’t want to be constantly shouted at for not staying in their seat, for not concentrating, for shouting out.  Kids do well if they can, The Explosive Child, Ross Greene, is one of my favourite phrases (I do get a small commission if the book is bought through this post but I highly recommend it). 

My son recently started medication for ADHD and the change has been incredible.  He loves it and cannot get over that the teachers no longer shout at him!  He didn’t want to be ‘naughty’ by not staying in his seat, he simply couldn’t.  Can you imagine what that does to a child’s self-esteem?  Being told off for something you are not capable of changing.  That would be like shouting at a blind child to see. Now imagine being told this daily.  That you are in the wrong, you are ‘naughty’, you are ‘bad’, I think I would have a fair bit of aggression in me.

Add into the equation that you have to get them to move from one task to another, say for instance, off their electronics to have tea, take a bath or god forbid do some homework.  I mean, my toes curl at the thought of this.  Getting them to stop something pleasurable to do something boring.  They will use any avoidance tactic possible and unfortunately for us it will usually involve anger, defiance, and a huge almighty meltdown.  All in the name of power and control. 

Of course, all children are likely to throw tantrums, that’s a given, just not as likely as a child with ADHD.  However, you can’t back down because these tasks need to be done and if you give in to their behaviour they will argue, become angry and have a meltdown, every time.  But some nights you are just so tired it’s so tempting to say ok let’s skip that tonight and walk on eggshells to avoid the confrontation.


As I have mentioned before my daughter is also diagnosed with ODD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder.  Approximately one third to a half of all children diagnosed with ADHD may also have ODD.  Signs of ODD include:

Being unusually angry or irritable

Frequently losing your temper

Being easily annoyed

Arguing with authoritative figures (see travelling blog for my daughter’s run-in with security!)

Refusing to follow rules

Annoying people on purpose

Blaming others for mistakes

All the above ring true for my daughter.  And so, whilst I think how hard it is for me and my family, I then stop to think how hard it is on her.  What she must be feeling at that moment?  How low her self-esteem goes afterwards?  How utterly remorseful she is.  That breaks my heart more than the anger.

So, what can we do?  Honestly, I wish I had a magic spell that I could list below and that would be it, but I don’t.  I can only share with you things that I have tried and worked for me and advice I have taken from others.

Pick your battles

My number one rule is ‘pick your battles’.  I had an image, as I’m sure most of us did when we thought about becoming parents.  Let that image go.  That was a silly social media image that no one can ever live up to.  Instead of expecting everything to be just so, I don’t.  I learn what is worth a battle and what is not. 

On a course with my daughter’s school, we learnt about having three, actually four baskets.  In basket one, you identify what really is a no go with you.  Make sure it is specific.  For me in that basket now would be swearing.  I know swearing does seem to go hand in hand with ADHD.  And I also know that swearing is an amazing way to let off steam.  Let’s just say I have been very specific about the two words I will not tolerate in this house.  Those words would therefore go in that basket. 

Now I have something visual so show my kids and say we have talked about this, and now it’s in black and white (must buy some baskets!).  They know what the household expectation and this won’t be tolerated.  There can be a consequence for this that can be agreed with your child/children when they are calm so that they know what to expect.

Next would be things that you care about and that you will address but they are not in basket one, yet.  Slamming doors would probably go in this basket for me; gaming rage; being mean to siblings; breaking things.  These will move up to basket one once basket one has been achieved.  They are still being monitored, however, and will have a lesser consequence, again agreed up before anything actually occurs.  In basket three are things you would like to change but it’s not worth having a meltdown over.  This is so what I mean about picking your battles. 

My basket three would include leaving dirty cups and plates on top of the dishwasher; clothes that can’t quite make it into the laundry basket; cups etc left in the bedroom.  To be honest I can’t ever see these being in my basket one and if they do I think I will be in heaven, literally.

My favourite basket was called the rainbow basket.  This is equally as important as all the other baskets as this one is where your put all the positives about your child.  What is special and amazing about them.  My daughter has so much empathy it is unbelievable!  She is amazingly kind and thoughtful.  Never forget their good qualities, there are so many.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement as opposed to punishment.  Reward their good behaviour, their great choices, their positive attitude.  Obviously, there are going to be times when they are going to need a consequence but discuss these before this happens.  Again, in the training, they called it ‘striking when the iron is cold’.  There is literally no point in shouting at a heightened child.  Making a child feel bad will not make them behave better.  They need to have their rational brain in play, not their emotional one. 

For example, this year when we went on holiday, I had big chats with my daughter before we left about expected behaviour.  I know travelling is a challenge for her.  The queuing and the out of routine is hard, but we must do it, or we’d never go anywhere.  I break everything down into small chunks for example taxi to the airport, checking in etc.  If you’ve read Travelling with children with ADHD, you’ll know about the Turkey incident…  I always remind her of this and agree that wasn’t one of her best choices.  At the end of it all, not only are we on holiday but she has won herself some spending money!

Breaking any electronic device is a week to a month off electronics, depending on what happened and how it happened.  This is laminated on the fridge; you know it’s serious when I start laminating stuff.

Transitioning from Tasks

Transitioning from tasks.  I learnt a great way to transition your child from one activity to another.  This works well with my son when he is on electronics.  The bane of my life yet also, to be honest, my saviour.  I mean we all need respite.  I have been poorly this weekend and I dread to imagine how much screen time he has had.  But seeing as there was little choice in the matter for me, it kept him occupied and allowed me to rest.  Anyway, I digress. 

On a normal evening when he has been on it for a normal amount of time it is difficult to get him to come and eat.  Now if I sit with him for literally two minutes before dinner is ready (even whilst it’s cooling down), ask him questions about the game and why this or that happens, it seems to bring him out of the full-on obsession and back into the ‘real world’ enough to then ask, so ‘Guess we should go and eat before it gets cold’.  When he’s playing by himself, he becomes so engrossed in what he is doing it is like trying to suck him out of a dream state.  By transitioning with him it really seems to help. 

Don’t Fight Fire with Fire

Try not to fight fire with fire.  It won’t work.  It literally never does.  A child who is heightened is not going to calm down by being screamed at by a heightened adult.  I know it is hard to always remain calm, but honestly, it works.  I know if I raise my voice to my neurotypical (NT) son he knows he’s done wrong and deals with it.  If I did this to his twin, my daughter with ADHD, she would explode.

Sometimes she can say the cruellest things to me in the heat of the moment.  She can be so hurtful that I want to answer back, it’s only human!  I want to defend myself.  But I’ve learned to remind myself this is the ADHD talking this is not my daughter.  Let this storm pass.  And it will.  But if I retaliate, it will ignite a super row.  A mega meltdown.  And achieve nothing except regret on both sides. 

It can be hard when she does this in front of other parents.  I know what I would do or say if this was my NT son, but I also know that that wouldn’t work for my daughter.  Yet you get the looks of ‘I wouldn’t let my child talk to me like that’, faces.  Well frankly balls to them, because they are not their child, and you are the expert on your child.  You also know that if you start shouting at your child to please the crowd of ‘parenting experts’ it is going to erupt into something far worse.

Build their Self-Esteem

Set your child up for success.  Ensure they have every opportunity to get praised for doing something.  Make sure they have things in their life you can praise them for.  My kids love tennis and appear to be quite good at it! Win.  Activity and praise!  She really struggles with reading due to her dyslexia.  I mean that in the sense that she doesn’t enjoy it, it’s hard for her, which is such a shame because I love books and know the joy you can get from them.  However, she has just got into a set of books, Tom Gates, which have brilliantly spaced-out sentences with loads of cartoon pics in so it makes it easier for her to read. I am praising her to the moon and back because this is amazing!  She is so caring too, I always acknowledge this, it’s such an important quality.  

Our children with ADHD suffer from low self-esteem.  They really need boosts to make them feel good enough, that they are not letting you down or being bad.  Let them know you get it.  That their behaviour doesn’t define them.  In this house we love cuddles.  Make sure you have some one-on-one time with each of your kids each day, even just a few minutes, to let them know how loved they are.  Especially if there has been a meltdown.  They need reassurance that they are still loved, regardless of a previous lash out.  Be the adult they need.

I remember learning about Seligman’s, ‘learned helplessness’ when studying psychology in his book ‘Learned Optimism’.  Basically, put this is when an individual has experienced the same bad or stressful experience repeatedly that they start to believe there is no point in trying to alter their situation.  They literally give up trying to change, even if an opportunity arises, because they feel there will be no point.  Don’t let this become your child.  Please don’t let them get to the point where they think nothing they do is ever good enough or that everything they do is wrong or ‘bad’.  Make sure we give them encouragement and understanding.  Kids do well when they can.

I hope this has helped.  Please let me know any of your parenting tips, I’m always keen to learn.  Some things work for my daughter that don’t work for my son and vice versa so it’s good to keep learning.

I have started a private support group on Facebook for parents and carers who need support with their child with ADHD. It’s a friendly place to chat with others. Please do click this link ADHDinchildren to join. And for anyone on Instagram, I’m there too ADHD Mum.

Vicki x

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Jeremy Keen

    Thank you so much for this – it’s spot on. My son (now 22) grew up with ADHD that remained undiagnosed until he was 17 and had suffered so much from us, from school and from his peers. Even today, the person I see when he is ‘on meds’ is very different from the jittery, hyper-emotional, short-fused person he becomes in his unmedicated state. Learning about ADHD was a salvation in one way, because we were able to help our son and bring him back to some semblance of normality. But it was also a cruel awakening to discover that blind genetic chance – an inheritance one didn’t ask for and can have no control over – can inflict such pain on individuals and their families. I now believe that all children should be screened for neuro-divergent conditions and that intervention should be offered early to allow those with ADHD to grow up with happier lives and better life-chances. Sadly, here in the UK, medical professionals still have a pitifully low awareness of ADHD and are still squabbling about whether it’s real or not, and whether it’s being over-diagnosed. So much good could easily be done and so much pain and social cost averted if they would just catch up with the research and spread the word to the teachers, lawyers, policemen etc. But this is Britain – dominated by complacency and self-serving conventions. Kind regards, Jem Keen

    1. Victoria Page

      I am so sorry to hear that it took so long to get your son diagnosed. I felt my waiting period was long enough! ADHD needs far more awareness, I couldn’t agree more. I hate the ‘naughty child’ stigma that is attached to our children. If you ever want to write a blog post about your experience I would be happy to publish it on here for others to read. Are you on facebook because I would value your input on my parenting support group? Thank you for your post x

Leave a Reply