Teenagers, ADD and Tantrums

Seems that this is what your life is like once your child hit those irrepressible teen years. They put parents on “mute” and “yada-yada”.  Both of you wind up frustrated and weary.

Each of you feels like you are walking on cracked glass and almost every encounter winds up in someone yelling and the other person slamming a door.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Because both of you want the same things!  Communication, respect and acknowledgement.

Parents feel like they are living in a warp-speed zone, one minute their child is a child and the next their child is shouting for independence and for you to more or less ‘get out of their face’.

Like the phases of the moon, we all live within habitual cycles. Teens are even more so with hormones flaring and confidence waxing and waning.  Complicating this are teens who are on ADD medications. These medications have an internal “self-life” and when they are wearing down is usually when you are seeing them at the end of the day.

This produces a chaotic atmosphere that seems to naturally lend itself to meltdowns and tantrums.  Digging ones heels in and just saying “no” is but one way to control the chaos and get things what seem to be swirling under control.

But there is another way and no one has to be the “loser” and no one gets to be the “winner”.  Just remember your struggles with your teen are really about POWER. Who has it, who wants it, and who is going to defeat whom?

How about starting with changes the communication patterns.  This will take time, and it will not happen over night but over time this can be a great way for each side to get heard, no one get negated and for compromise to occur.

Here is an example scenario:

Jake a 15 year old with a diagnosis of ADHD has a horrible time getting started with homework. He has master procrastination to an ‘art form’. His younger sister, Alice, aged 10 still sees Jake as a play-pal, and expects him to come and be with her when he gets home. He gets frustrated with the interruptions. Alice gets her feelings hurt and pouts, Jake yells and mom gets into the fray and everyone winds up upset and unhappy and angry.

Because things seem to be happening in a repeat pattern –change the pattern.  Learned responses are not easily changed so do not expect instant harmony.

Set the “ground rules” (after discussion with both children).

This can be done on a simple chart and after a while the question can be not “what is the matter” but did you work it out on the chart”?

Before you start however, acknowledge that Jake’s feelings are real and that you really understand that he feels like he is between a “rock and hard place”.  Empathy counts and you can even talk about some school issues you had (didn’t we all??).

The first time you talk about planning reactions and actions the chart may look like this:


What is upsetting you What do I know about what has to happen What do I need to get homework done and not be angry What out come do you want RIGHT NOW What outcome would make you feel good about yourself
I hate homework Not have homework
I can’t do it Someone to be with me or do it for me
Alice keeps interrupting me Keep Alice out of my room
I’ll never get it done Just go to bed

Then together the both of you think it through, talk it out and fill it in: (maybe not all in one session)

What is upsetting you What do I know about what has to happen What do I need to get homework done and not be angry What out come do you want—RIGHT NOW What outcome would make you feel good about yourself
I hate homework I have to do the homework Organize it and do one piece at a time and take breaks between subjects Not have homework Getting the homework done neatly and not worrying if I got it “right”
I can’t do it I can take breaks and ask for Mom or Dad to check it piece by piece I can find a time to ask the teacher during school if I don’t understand what I am to do


I can call a classmate and ask about it

Someone to be with me or do it for me Repeat and repeat and repeat, “I am learning…I am not supposed to know it all” and just do my best.
Alice keeps interrupting me I like playing with Alice but my homework makes me nervous Set a time with a timer (10-15 minutes maybe during a break) to play with Alice and when that time is over we will both agree that playtime is over Keep Alice out of my room Tell Alice I really like playing with her but I need her to help me stay on track with time because it is so hard for me to do it alone.
I’ll never get it done Why do I have to be the stupidest person in the class? This is fortune telling you do not know everyone’s grades or how they understand the assignments. But being organized, asking questions and letting mom/dad check it will help with getting it done with your best possible effort and not doing it to get it over with. Just go to bed Being organized and doing one subject at a time and putting each subject in separate piles helps me in getting homework done~ it is less overwhelming than dumping everything onto the floor of my room and just staring and “monster” on my floor.


I will sleep better!

Now when Jake gets upset his mom is not the Master Solution Maker, he is! He gets to be in charge, figure it out and choose what he wants to do.  With support and encouragement, Jake learns to make difficult decisions in frustrating situations by creating a visual of his thoughts, ideas and feelings. Eventually, the goal is for Jake to make his own chart, recognize when his frustration is getting the best of him and create personal pathways for self-regulation.

This allows Jake to be the “grown up” (independence), talk rationally about what is going on with him (communication) and feel like he is no longer being treated like a baby, he has more self-control (self-esteem).

Learning to do this is a process, this is not a race there are no time limits. But the more charting out one’s actions, reactions and feelings are done, the less chaos, the less frustration and the less fall back into temper tantrums.

No one said growing up was easy, and even though there are “Blessings in a Skinned Knee”; you don’t need one everyday.