When boys with ADHD lash out at their mothers but not their fathers - ADHD Dude - Ryan Wexelblatt

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When boys with ADHD lash out at their mothers but not their fathers.

The first few times I heard about this I speculated it could attributed to the fact some boys are scared of their father's anger thus they make a concerted effort to emotionally regulate themselves better around their fathers than their mothers.
Then I started asking some different questions and here's the similarity I found in all of these cases:
The mother had an immediate emotional reaction to her son's anger or emotional dysregulation which included crying and/or expressing herself in a way in those moments that caused her son to perceive his mothers as being a victim of his dysreguation.
  • Difficulty regulating one's emotions in a manner expected for the situation is challenging for many kids with ADHD.
  • Kids with ADHD often have difficulty putting problem size in a relevant context.
  • In families of kids with ADHD there is a common family dynamic in which mothers try to overcompensate for their son's low frustration tolerance, social learning challenges, and other ADHD-related challenges by doing too much for their sons which create a relationship dynamic of over-dependence. In some cases this leads to emotional enmeshment where mothers are so deeply effected by their son's emotional state that they cannot separate themselves enough to help their son by "co-regulating", or helping him get back to a state of calmness.
When kids with ADHD are emotionally dysregulated regardless if it's anger, upset or frustration they need the adults around them to serve as a "containment system" (this is called co-regulation). The way boys would express this verbally (and don't expect him to do this) would be: "I'm not in control of my emotions right now so I need you to be in control of your emotions so you can help me get back to being calm."
What I learned when I started asking the right questions was that when mothers "break down" and perceive themselves as the victim of their son's emotional dysregulation it causes their son to feel that he is not being contained, which in turn causes him to not to feel safe when he is emotionally dysregulated.
How can you expect your son to calm down when he perceives you acting like a victim to his emotional dysregulation? Keep in mind, lashing out at you does not feel good to him.
In many cases kids are the most expressive with the parent whom they feel they feel safest with expressing strong emotions. That is certainly applicable here, however, what I have described is about a mother's reaction to her son emotional dysreguation when it is directed towards her.
Lashing out at mothers but not fathers is an expression of feeling unsafe when emotionally escalated, due to the parents response. It's a way of communicating "I don't feel safe seeing you emotionally dysregulated, I need you to keep it together now so I can feel safe and calm down."
My advice to the mothers who break down when their sons lash out at them is this:
  • When your son is angry/upset/frustrated and lashes out at your, that's when he most needs you to be calm and in control of your emotions.
  • The most helpful thing you can do in those moments is use what I call with kids "emotional compression", meaning however you feel is valid, however you cannot show how you feel in that moment because your son needs you to be that co-regulation containment system so he can calm down.
  • When your son is escalated do not escalate things by talking too much. This often makes things worse. As I always say: "Use 80% less words and you'll get much better results."
Finally, after this is all over if you want to discuss the incident with him that's fine and please follow these guidelines:
  • The discussion should be no more than 5 minutes, unless he wants to talk longer. If you prolong it you risk escalating him again.
  • The discussion should not be a rehashing of the events. that is unnecessary.
  • Most importantly, the discussion shouldn't focus on how it made you feel, rather explain to him how you understand it must not feel good when he becomes dysregulated and lashes out at you. Ask him what you can do to help him calm down in those moments, see if he has any ideas about what he needs. That is teaching him a valuable lesson in self-advocacy skills.
Make sure you have a strong support system, you need and deserve that. You got this Moms 🤗
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