ADHD and Emotional Self-Control

image courtesy of Michael Jacksonfan via flickr
Five boys can make all the difference. No, I'm not talking about the five in the picture to the right. I'm talking about five boys that I work with each week in the after school program in Allendale.

When Marvin Love started working regularly with this program, it gave us the chance to shift around some responsibilities. Since he prefers the older kids, and is really good with them, he took over the 4th - 8th grade group where I had been leading. That allowed me to focus more time on the 2nd and 3rd graders.

This was much-needed since this class had already gone through a number of volunteer leaders. I am no expert on childhood and education, but I knew I could at least add some time and energy to this group of kids.

What I saw immediately was that their energy put mine to shame. Their voices rapidly increased in volume, as they clamored for attention. They ignored directions, even after I repeated myself multiple times.

But two things soon became clear to me:
  1. These kids are not that different than mine.
  2. The "they" that caused the most problems were only part of the class, and the worst has been a group of 5 or 6 boys, out of a total class size of about 25.
As I've been working with this group for about two months now, it's amazing the difference in how things go depending on whether those boys are there. And it's rarely just one or 2 of them there; it's pretty much all or nothing.

But I've been learning that their behavior is only part of the issue. In fact, God reminds me that that their external actions merely reflect an internal reality. Much of this, of course, is related to the spiritual condition of their hearts, as I am sure that most of this group are unregenerate.

I am also seeing that a lot of this is due to emotional and physiological issues.  A few of these boys will melt into tears when I pull them aside to discuss their behavior (like this boy who struggled with his emotions). Even more, when I obtained report cards from the schools, I learned that one of these boys (whose temperament can change in an instant from lovable to wanting to fight) is in a special education class.

I also learned that one other boy in that class has ADHD, and when his medicine is wearing off at the end of the day, it can get bad. (Although I'm excited to say that he earned our class's "Youth of the Week" award last week.) In truth, probably a few kids in there (and a few in the other groups) have ADHD, and at least half have emotional self-control issues.

It was interesting to read that there seems to be a connection between ADHD and emotional self-control, especially that this can run in families (and everyone seems to be related down here). While the connection is clear, it has not yet been determined if one issue causes the other. But the real-life implications are serious. "Individuals with ADHD who also display emotional overreaction have a reduced quality of life and difficulties with personal relationships and social success."

I know that we cannot fix anything in the short-term, but we can't just excuse the behavior. One day, after a boy in the oldest class (who has ADHD) was jumping off of tables and bookshelves, I told his mom, "I understand that he cannot always control his behavior. But we have to work with him over the next few years to teach him how. While he can get away with jumping off tables when he is 10, he has to learn that he can't still do that when he's 18."

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  1. Valerie CampbellMay 17, 2011 at 11:28 AM

    I am allll to familiar with this. I'm sure you have observed some cases of ODD as well, whether you know it or not. Google it. Having foster kids, I am dealing with a lot of the same stuff as you are!

    My 1 consistantly well behaved kid (of the 4 foster kids) gets upset when I give significant rewards to the others for small improvements on issues that he has mastered (and is quick to point out the bad that his siblings are doing). It has been a learning experience for him as well as I have had to explain to him the concept of praise and how it leads to seeing more of the good behavior. I am trying to get him on the bandwagon of praising his siblings when they do things right (and he is coming around to this).
    Maybe you could also talk to the 'well behaved kids' about taking notice and saying something when the other boys do something right. It is so easy for everyone to focus on the bad behavior because it stands out so much, but teaching everyone around those wilder kids to notice when they are doing what they are supposed to, even if it is the one time they do something right, and then tell them 'good job' for it will help everyone involved.
    One of my kids has been told he's being 'bad' so many times, that he THINKS HE IS BAD and so continues the cycle...

  2. Valerie CampbellMay 17, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    2 more things to look for
    1) Watch what happens BEFORE those boys 'blow up', you may find that some of the 'good kids' are provoking them (by accident or purposeful). I'm sure there are many reasons for it, but some kids get a kick out of getting a rise out of someone. It gives them a little sense of control when they probably have very little over the rest of their life. I suggest spending a good part of one afternoon just watching them and their interactions with others.
    2) My youngest's therapist has come up with a few helpful tips for teaching him anger management. I will email a copy of it to you this week.
    I realize that my kids are not exactly like all other kids and that different things work for different people, but each of my kids has significant and very different issues (oppositional behavior, ADHD, constant lying, and Autism, to name a FEW), so I tried many things.

  3. Great points, Valerie. Yes, I try to "catch" kids doing good, and reward them (whether with candy, privileges, or just verbal praise). Many of the kids love to tattle tale, but I was so proud yesterday when a girl came up to me to say that friend shared her Goldfish crackers.

    And, yes, we have a good bit of provoking, and it's usually intentional. I try to nip that in the bud. As far as I'm concerned, that's bullying, coming (as you say) out of a need for power and control.