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ADHD and Aggression: What You Need to Know

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

  • It’s not uncommon for kids with ADHD to be aggressive.

  • They can have trouble managing emotions and thinking before they act.

  • Self-control typically improves as kids with ADHD get older.

All kids can lose control of their emotions if they’re feeling angry, hurt, or frustrated. But when kids with ADHD (also known as ADD) get upset, these feelings can be stronger and last longer. In some cases, kids might react by getting physically aggressive.

Trouble managing their emotions is common for kids with ADHD. They don’t mean to be aggressive and often feel terrible about it afterward. But in the moment, they don’t have the self-control to stop themselves and consider other ways to act.

It’s important to know that ADHD may not be the reason for your child’s aggressiveness. There could be other issues contributing to his aggressive behavior. That’s something you should look into.

Here are some of the reasons why kids with ADHD may be physically aggressive, and how you can help your child.

Aggression and Impulsivity

Some kids with ADHD are impulsive. Impulsivity can make it hard for kids to stop and think through their actions. They want what they want right now. And that’s what they act on.

For example, a first grader who wants a toy that another child is playing with might grab it or hit the child to get the toy.

Kids with ADHD can also get “stuck” in a negative space and have a hard time moving on. They get it in their head that they’ve been wronged and have trouble getting out of that space.

For example, they might push a classmate in line because they believe it’s their turn to be first. And they’ll do it even if they know they’ll be disciplined and sent to the back of the line. They might even escalate the situation by throwing their backpack on the floor or kicking a classmate.

After acting out, kids with ADHD often feel really bad about what they did. But that may not keep them from reacting the same way next time.

Many kids with ADHD are also less likely to learn from their mistakes. Being impulsive makes it hard to think about consequences. It can also keep kids from remembering that lashing out doesn’t work.

As kids with ADHD get older, they usually become less impulsive. And they become less physically aggressive as a result.

Aggression and Trouble Managing Emotions

Kids with ADHD often have difficulty managing emotions. For example, kids with ADHD may cry more easily or get angry more quickly than kids without ADHD.

It can also be hard for them to calm themselves down. They may not have the self-soothing skills that other kids their age have. And they can get so overwhelmed that they make a mountain out of a molehill. So they may need help learning how to recognize which problems are small and which ones are significant.

These challenges can also make it hard for kids to keep frustrations in perspective—and in check. And that can lead them to lash out.

They may get frustrated because they don’t know how to do the math homework or can’t find their favorite T-shirt. Those small things can lead them to yell at whoever’s around, tear up the math assignment, or hit their sibling for saying the wrong thing.

Aggression and ADHD Medication

Some kids who take ADHD stimulant medication become edgy and irritable. Typically, that happens as the medication wears off. This is called rebound, and it can last for a few minutes or a couple of hours, often at the same time each day.

For a small number of kids, the wrong medication might lead to general feelings of irritability and aggression throughout the day.

If this is happening, talk to the prescriber. Your child’s medication may need to be adjusted. You can also keep track of what you’re seeing with an ADHD medication log.

Other Things Related to Aggression

Kids with ADHD sometimes lash out when something stressful is happening in their lives. Maybe they’re being bullied at school. Or maybe there are family problems at home. It’s also possible they’re not getting enough sleep.

Keep in mind, too, that kids with ADHD often have other conditions that can contribute to aggressive behavior. These include oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety, and depression.

How You Can Help

Wait for a time when your child isn’t frustrated and have a calm conversation. Ask why your child is often upset and what might help. You can also connect with your child’s teacher to find out what’s happening at school.

Keep track of aggressive behavior you’re seeing. Knowing the types of situations that cause your child to act aggressively can help you prepare and problem-solve.

Using rewards and consequences may help. But if you can’t get a handle on your child’s aggression, talk to your child’s health care provider. Together you can come up with a plan, which might include things like counseling or behavior therapy.

Key Takeaways

  • Kids with ADHD typically aren’t aggressive on purpose.

  • They often need extra help learning how to stay calm.

  • Keep an eye on your child’s mental health, and reach out to your health care provider if you have concerns.


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Share ADHD and Aggression: What You Need to Know

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