Unmasking the Hidden Signs of ADHD in Children

February 27, 2024

1. Riding the Rollercoaster: Emotional Dysregulation

Many people with ADHD struggle with self regulation – their nervous system overreacts in extreme ways to different stimuli, and it can cause their mood to change…and fast. While the typical picture of ADHD includes visible hyperactivity, in reality, only 25% of children with ADHD are visibly hyperactive. So what about the rest? For the vast majority, most of their hyperactivity happens internally. Your child may seem tightly wound, overly nervous, have anxiety, and/or difficulty sleeping. You may notice they get bored easily, are always daydreaming, chewing their pencils, picking at scabs, or chewing nails. Keeping this hyperactive energy bottled inside can be torture for a person. Over time, a child’s self esteem can be negatively affected.

It’s important to remember that your child’s sudden mood swings have a definite trigger (even if you have to dig around to find it) and they tend to match a neurotypical response, except that they are WAY more intense. The moods also generally pass. An example of this is rejection sensitive dysphoria. This is when children receive real or perceived negative feedback, rejection, teasing, or have let someone down (even themselves!), and their overactive nervous system creates what a neurotypical person would consider to be a disproportionately extreme response. You may feel your child is hypersensitive or over-reactive, but they actually feel these intense emotions on a different level on a daily basis. When a child externalizes these big feelings, you may see them lash out suddenly in a rage. However, when a child is internalizing these negative emotions, it may be less obvious to parents. They may develop negative self esteem or engage in negative self talk. They may appear to have anxiety, to be a people pleaser, or struggle to make or maintain friendships. They may even OVERachieve, over-organize, over-prepare, and over-work themselves as they fear letting someone down.

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