Ask An Expert / ADHD

My daughter with ADHD is upset about summer activities being canceled. Do you have any advice?

Empathize with her pain, but set boundaries for behavior

Lee Stephanie CMI
Stephanie A. Lee, PsyD

Senior Director of the ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center

Child Mind Institute

My 7-year-old daughter with ADHD is upset about summer activities being canceled. Her ability to regulate her behavior is pretty compromised. Do you have any advice?

To begin, you want to make sure that you are validating and empathizing with your daughter’s disappointment. I recommend that you use the two E’s (a great concept from Phillip Kendall’s Coping Cat) — empathy and encouragement. So first you’re letting your child know, “I hear you and I know that these things are disappointing.” Then you’re shifting to encouragement, where you’re saying, “I know that we can work through these things together and we will be able to manage your disappointment and still have a good time this summer.”

Also you want to make sure that your daughter understands that behavior that’s dangerous, unsafe, aggressive or non-compliant is truly not acceptable, regardless of disappointment. All kids, but particularly kids with ADHD, need to understand that it’s okay to be disappointed, it’s okay to yell or to journal about it or to cry a little, but it is never okay to hit your sister. It is never okay to curse at you.

It’s important to make it clear to your child how she can express her disappointment appropriately, and  also where the boundaries are related to behavioral expectation.

We also want to make sure again that kids get praised and rewarded for being flexible and keeping their calm when they’re upset. It’s a great time for parents to say things like, “I loved the way that you stayed calm when you were disappointed.”