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  • Managing emotions
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Frustration

ADHD and emotions

By Thomas E. Brown, PhD

At a Glance

  • Trouble managing emotions is a common ADHD symptom.

  • Emotions can feel more intense with ADHD and get in the way of everyday life.

  • There are ways to help get control of and manage emotions.

Many people know about the main symptoms of ADHD. Trouble with focus and impulsivity are the most common. But one challenge that isn’t mentioned as much is trouble managing emotions.

People with ADHD have the same emotions as other people. What’s different is that they often feel these emotions more intensely. These emotions also last longer and can get in the way of everyday life. 

Because of that, people with ADHD may:

  • Be overwhelmed with discouragement, frustration, or anger

  • Give up too quickly on whatever they’re doing

  • Avoid interacting with others

People with ADHD often get better at managing their emotions as they get older. But some continue to struggle with it as adults. Still, there are skills people of all ages can learn to help manage emotions.

Dive deeper

Examples of trouble managing emotions

When people with ADHD have trouble managing their emotions, it can show up in different ways. Some have trouble putting the brakes on their feelings when they’re angry or stressed. Others struggle to get revved up to do something when they’re feeling bored.

People with ADHD might also:

  • Be quick to get frustrated by minor annoyances

  • Worry too much or too long about even small things

  • Have trouble calming down when they’re annoyed or angry

  • Feel wounded or take offense at even gentle criticism

  • Feel excessive urgency to get something they want now

Read more about the relationship between ADHD and specific emotions and difficulties, including:

Why it happens

People with ADHD struggle with a set of mental skills called . These skills help us keep things in perspective and manage how we respond to situations and feelings. They include flexible thinking and impulse control. 

is another executive function skill people with ADHD struggle with. They may be too focused on how they feel in this moment to keep in mind their other feelings. For example, they may feel angry and say something harsh, even though they really don’t want to upset anyone.

Executive function skills develop over time. Kids with ADHD may get better at managing emotions as they get older. But challenges often continue into adulthood.

Learn more about the ADHD brain .

How to help kids manage emotions

When kids struggle with their feelings, it may seem like there’s no way to get through to them or stop negative behaviors. But there are ways to help kids get control of and manage their emotions.

Start by acknowledging how they seem to be feeling. Use phrases like “I see how disappointed you are about coming in second in the science fair.” Don’t argue about whether they should be feeling this way. That usually just escalates the problem.

Once kids are calm, offer to help them figure out a better way to deal with the emotion — one that might help switch their thinking. For example, you could say:

“I know you’re upset about not getting first place and you just want to leave. But you worked hard on your project and people who looked at it seemed impressed. I’m proud of what you did.”

Parents and caregivers: Keep track of when your child gets frustrated and why with this frustration log . It can help you find patterns in your child’s behavior.

Educators: Read about classroom accommodations for ADHD .

Next steps for kids and adults

ADHD treatment can help people develop strategies to manage their emotions. These treatments can include:

Medication isn’t for everyone. But it’s the most effective ADHD treatment for the majority of people. Talk with your health care provider. 

Learn more about ADHD treatment and whether counseling might help

Related topics

Managing emotions Stress and anxiety Frustration

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Share ADHD and emotions

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom