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All the Feelings: 3 Exercises for Emotional Dysregulation

Children with ADHD feel lots of feelings. LOTS! All children need to be taught appropriate ways to express their emotions. This is just a normal part of parenting. But children with ADHD may need extra patience, guidance, and creativity to help them learn to soothe themselves and think before they act. Here are just a few exercises that have worked in our home.

  1. How big is this problem? When my kids are blowing a situation way out of proportion, I take some time to help them see the situation more realistically. I start by asking them, “What is the worst thing in the world that could happen to you?” or “What are you most afraid of in the whole world?” I know this sounds macabre, but bear with me. I want them to name something really awful, like everyone in the world dying and them being all alone. Then I ask, “If that ever happened, would God still be with you to help you through it?” Ideally, they would answer, “yes.” Then I ask, “So, if losing every person in the world and being all alone is a size ten problem, what size do you think this problem is?” Often, they will admit it’s a one or a two, but sometimes they need a little help, so I will ask, “What would a size eight problem look like?” I move my way down the scale and eventually they can see that their six is really a three. Finally, I ask, “So, if God is with you and can comfort you when there’s a size ten problem, do you think he can also comfort you with a size two?” This exercise not only trains them to look at their problems from a proper perspective, it reassures them of God’s goodness and love for them, no matter what happens.

  2. Grounding Sometimes anxiety and panic set in and the child can focus on nothing but the uncomfortable emotion they are experiencing. Sometimes they don’t even remember what they are anxious about. A very common technique in psychotherapy is called the grounding technique. First, very calmly, ask them to describe how certain surfaces feel - the seat of the chair, the table top, the floor, their clothing. You may have to offer them some descriptive words such as soft, warm, rough, fuzzy, sticky, etc. Work through three or four items until they are calmer. Then offer them your hand and ask them to describe it (don’t be offended if they are brutally honest!) Wrap them in a bear hug and ask them to describe how that feels. Asking them to focus on something other than the problem at hand calms them down and loving touch is soothing for anyone!

  3. Box Breathing Box breathing is one of the many types of breathing exercises and I like it because it offers a visualization to increase the focus of the person practicing it. First, have your child breathe in to the count of 4. Count slowly out loud and instruct them to imagine they are drawing the left side of a box in an upward direction. You can have them actually draw the box or draw it for them and have them use their finger to trace it. Next, count to four again as they hold their breath and draw the top of the box. Then, count to four as they breathe slowly out and draw the right side in a downward motion. Finally, count to four as they hold their breath again and draw the bottom of the box. Repeat this breathing exercise three or four times until they have calmed down.

These exercises are helpful when your child is feeling extremely anxious, sad or frustrated. Next week we will talk about a plan for children who tend to get excessively angry, so stay tuned! In the meantime, consider the vast array of emotions Jesus experienced. It is my firm belief that our emotions are not wrong or bad, they are simply an indicator of what is taking place in our minds. So be careful not to communicate to your child that their feelings are wrong. It is what they do with those feelings that matters, and that is precisely what we need to to teach them.

I am offering a five week workshop through a private FB group. Sign up at my introductory rate of $150 per couple. You can find out more here. Need one on one help? Ask a pastor or trusted mentor or counselor for help, or you can book a free Discovery Session with me by going to and enter the code: ADHD in the checkout.

The content found on Flourishing Family Coaching’s website and blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding ADHD, anxiety, depression or any other medical conditions. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or blog.

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