Executive function and emotional control walk in lockstep. Stress and emotional flooding affect how children with ADHD learn, play, engage with classmates, follow directions, and retain information. When they enter a heightened state of arousal, their ADHD brain wiring can interfere with social-emotional learning and sabotage self-regulation, making it difficult to access the curriculum, respond appropriately, reframe challenges, react with strategies, or problem solve.
How Educators Can Promote Emotional Control in Students with ADHD
- Create a “pattern interrupt” by engaging in an exercise shown to reduce cortisol and adrenaline levels, increase dopamine levels, and release endorphins to induce a calmer state of mind. Shift a classroom’s internal chemistry by doing jumping jacks, jumping like a frog, walking like a bear on your hands and knees, stomping like an elephant, stretching to touch the sky, walking up and down the stairs, or touching toes.
- Model emotional coping strategies by leading and posting regulation strategies in the classroom. Create a Zen corner and engage in mindful meditation practices to demonstrate their daily utility. Give each student a code word to alert you when they are struggling.
- Reflect on and talk about book characters’ emotions to build a culture of empathy. Connect a character’s emotional state, reactions, and decision making to students’ inner emotional worlds. Build lifelong relationship-management skills by teaching students to reflect on their emotional state, recognize and share feelings, and step into others’ shoes.
- Each morning, ask students to take a deep breath, then gauge and name their emotional state or point to an emoji chart. Offer calming strategies to begin the day. This five-minute exercise will pay dividends as children free up mental and emotional energy for the day’s curriculum.
When friends or frenemies clash, prompt children to step into each other’s shoes and take their own emotional temperature. Prompt them to consider whether they need space to be less reactive and suggest centering strategies like quietly repeating a mantra such as, “I am OK.”
- Improve students’ emotional vocabulary by posting a rich word bank for various nuanced emotional states — in book characters and in themselves. Alternatives to “angry” might be “disappointed,” “irritated,” or “annoyed.” Alternatives to “happy” might be “relieved,” “giddy,” or “content.”