Question: My 7-year-old son has ADHD and is very impulsive and competitive. When he doesn’t win at something, he gets very frustrated and angry. Recently, after losing a game, he hit another child for teasing him. How should I handle this?
I’m glad you reached out. Your son seems to be really struggling at the moment, and it can be hard to know what to do to help.
The situation you are describing is quite common. Many kids with ADHD have trouble regulating the emotions that come with losing and with being teased. It all seems to escalate out of control before they know it.
Kids who struggle with attention issues also may have lower self-esteem than other kids. For them, losing at “one more thing” can feel like a real blow.
Many kids with ADHD struggle with frustration, anger and aggression. That’s no excuse for hitting another child, of course. But helping your son gain self-control may lessen the anger and frustration that led him to lash out.
Here are some strategies you can try:
During family games, focus on the actual play. Make it about having fun together as a family instead of winning or losing.
Model losing in a positive way. Congratulate the winner and acknowledge that everyone played well but some people played a bit better and won. Try to be specific about what you liked in how everyone played. Kids who lose often forget that they may have played really well and helped the team.
Good sportsmanship happens in real life, too. So, find opportunities to model it in everyday situations. If you get cut off in traffic, for instance, don’t use bad language under your breath. Or if you’re running late to something, don’t insist that everyone else get moving.
Empathize with the feelings your child has, while also giving a positive outlook. “I know you feel like you played really badly. But I have to tell you, I noticed you did this and this very well.”
Encourage your son to find an activity he enjoys where he can compete against himself in building skills. Some examples might be fishing, hiking, baking, and art. Set short-term goals for becoming better at something he likes.
It can be challenging to help a 7-year-old learn to lose gracefully. It’s even harder when he’s both competitive and impulsive.
You might feel frustrated that your son is still behaving this way long after his peers have stopped. It can help to remember that kids with ADHD are slower to develop the executive skills they need to manage their emotions.
It’s important to remain on your child’s team and be positive, no matter how frustrated you—or he—is. With your support and guidance, he can start to learn how to cope with disappointment and difficult emotions.