Q. My child has ADHD and gets very anxious, but also has a lot of anger issues. Are these all connected?
A. The short answer is “Yes, ADHD, anxiety, and anger are connected.” Here’s how.
Children with ADHD have trouble paying attention and controlling their impulses. This often leads to instances where they become angry or begin to feel anxious.
Anxious moments can leave a child feeling overwhelmed. And that stress can lead to aggressive behaviors like tantrums or meltdowns. So, it’s not uncommon for anxiety to look more like anger than nervousness for some kids with ADHD.
This is where trouble with self-control comes in. Kids with ADHD are more likely than other kids to react impulsively to negative feelings. They typically don’t pause and reflect on those feelings. But the ability to reflect is an essential skill for learning to manage anger in a healthy way.
As for ADHD and anxiety, the two conditions often co-occur. And they’re often misdiagnosed. That’s because their symptoms can overlap and look similar. It’s important for kids to be evaluated for each one in order to get the best treatment.
Symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and anger can feed off of one another. This may cause a cycle that can be difficult to change in the moment. For example, a child with ADHD may get negative feedback because of behaviors they can’t easily control. This feedback can result in low self-esteem. And it can leave kids feeling anxious or angry.
Helping kids manage all parts of their ADHD, anxiety, and anger is key to ending this cycle.
Luckily, there are ways to help kids. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, can help kids build the skills needed to manage their anxiety. Mindfulness can teach kids better ways to regulate their emotions. And ADHD medication can help kids with symptoms of impulsivity.
About the author
About the author
Ellen Braaten, PhD is a child psychologist, professor, and founding director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital.