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ADHD Can Cause Your Sensitive Child to Struggle

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, can seem like they’re full of contradictions. They may struggle with basic tasks of tidiness or tooth brushing, but have intense energy and get excited when focusing on something that sparks their interest. That happy excitement can also turn to frustration and anger just as quickly. And while they may be able to learn well, and fast, they may struggle to focus for long periods of time on one task.

Children with ADHD may hop from subject to subject or activity to activity, acting impulsively or without thinking first. They may be very sensitive to perceived rejection or slights from their peers or parents. They may hit their limit in terms of what they can handle doing, at times that surprise you as their parent. You might not realize that having to manage emotions, or deal with a lot of stimulation, or problem solve constantly with simple day-to-day tasks, can leave a child with ADHD without the ability to self-regulate or start tasks until they get rest and can rebuild their mental energy.

Suffolk DBT can help your sensitive, curious and creative child, so they can be their best self.

We at Suffolk DBT use DBT processes that are set up to be age-appropriate. We offer DBT for children (DBT-C), and DBT for teens and their families (DBT-A), giving you all the skills to make home more harmonious, and to connect you to your child in a whole family effort to grow and thrive. With DBT, and your support as their parent, your child or teen will soon be managing their ADHD symptoms that are disruptive, while leveraging their ADHD strengths to be able to enjoy themselves and their life.

You suspect ADHD for your child/teen, or already have a diagnosis. Now what?

ADHD is a stressor for children and parents

Unaddressed ADHD behaviors are a lightning rod for criticism of a child, as a lot of people assume the sensitivity, inattention, and impulsivity of ADHD are intentional and malicious, instead of simply how a child operates.

You support your child, we know you do, but even you may find yourself exasperated with the daily symptoms your child encounters. It can be disruptive to engage with a child who is regularly hyperactive, or inattentive, especially when their symptoms lead to panic, anger, or overwhelm.

When children don’t have the skills to moderate their behavior, ADHD can lead to serious distress for them. ADHD can lead to struggles with making and keeping friends, maintaining self-esteem, and difficulty achieving all a child wants to in school and in life.

Teens with ADHD struggle too

As a child with ADHD grows into a teen with ADHD, symptoms can shift to impact their lives more strongly. They may be more impulsive and take risks, be more emotionally reactive, or withdrawn and quiet, with low self-esteem and trouble engaging with their peers. You may find yourself mystified as to how to connect to your teen, to help them with their struggles. They may be unable or unwilling to let you in, and you may find yourself butting heads with them in ways that cause all of you stress. You know they can do better, but don’t know how to show them the way.

Suffolk DBT can help children and teens struggling with ADHD symptoms

While medication can be a component of ADHD management, it can be critical to equip your child with the skills they need to manage their day to day symptoms of ADHD. Consistent, structured practice of skills that allow your child to better manage their emotions, impulsivity, and sensitivity, will give them a lifelong ability to structure their life in a way that serves them well.

DBT skills that can support managing ADHD

One key aspect of DBT, regardless of age, is skill development. You and your child will learn theses skills in individual therapy and group work, and practice using them in day-to-day life.

Dialectical Thinking

Dialectical thinking asks your child to accept that two things can be true at once. It asks your child to consider that they may not have all the information for a situation. You and your child will “Walk the Middle” in how you approach each other, allowing mutual respect to grow from understanding that everyone in a situation can be at least partially correct, because we all have our own perspectives and knowledge.


Mindfulness involves being in the moment, and paying attention to what you’re doing. Your child will be asked to engage their senses so they can feel, hear, see, and sense what they’re doing when they work on a task. They will be encouraged to release judgment, being kind to themselves when they slip out of a mindful state. Instead, they’ll practice recalling their focus when they find their mind wandering away from what they’re doing. They’ll also be asked to reflect on themselves, noticing when and how they are best able to focus, so they can set themselves up for success.

Interpersonal Effectiveness

Your child will practice relating to others with active listening and respectful communication. Active listening asks them to slow down and consider others when in conversation. Respectful communication will ask them to slow down and think before they speak. They’ll improve their self-esteem through improved relationships with others, and also be offered ways to cultivate self respect as well as respect for others.

Emotion Regulation

Your child will be asked to notice their emotions and name them. They’ll practice being mindful when engaging with their emotions, using a non-judgemental approach to notice any and all feelings they have. They’ll be taught different actions they can take to change their emotional situation, like taking opposite action to what an emotion might tell them to do. This practice of giving themselves space to feel their feelings can reduce the impact emotions have on their behavior, and can give them a better sense of control when they’re experiencing activated emotions.

Distress Tolerance

Your child will learn about radical acceptance of distress, including rejection, boredom, panic, thwarted hyperactivity, and more. They’ll be taught to look at the bigger picture, realizing that these distressing situations will end. Nervous system regulation skills can help (temperature, exercise, breathing, body scans/muscle relaxation), as well as distraction from the distress, to give the child space to deal with it. Self soothing options will be explored too, that suit the personality of your child.

What happens in DBT-C sessions, for children with ADHD and their families

Our first step in DBT-C is to meet with the parents. Parental involvement is critical for young children; DBT for children is, in essence, family therapy. The skills learned in therapy will need to be practiced at home, and parents need to know how to support the efforts of their child.

The parent meetings will give our clinicians an idea of what needs to be addressed for your ADHD child. We will offer you adaptive parenting techniques to start using, to better navigate home as a parent to a child with ADHD. After you’ve worked with these techniques for a few weeks, both in session and at home, we will meet one-on-one with your child. This lets us develop a trusting relationship with your child, and helps us understand your child’s unique functional needs when it comes to ADHD.

The DBT process will then continue with the family meeting together. In these sessions, coping skills will be offered to the family to try out in distressing situations, giving you all the tools you need to work toward more regulation of behavior and emotion for your child, and for you as you relate to them. Reward structures will be set up to reinforce skill use in a positive way, setting your child up for success. When setbacks happen, such as forgetting to employ a skill, you’ll have a safe place in a DBT session to process with your child. This will help to reinforce the good work you and your child have put into therapy.

DBT Offers Structure and Success for Your Sensitive Child

In time, you’ll be able to measure your family’s success in DBT through more consistency from your child. They’ll be able to self-regulate more with practice, increasing their capacity for routine and focused time. They’ll also better know themselves, and be better able to communicate their needs if they’re overwhelmed, hyperactive, or exhausted from their ADHD. You and your child will find ways to work together to help them succeed. You’ll also develop a strong, deep connection you all share, as you work through DBT with your child. That closeness will foster trust and communication, allowing you all to flourish.