3 Steps To Helping Kids With ADHD Handle Rejection Sensitivity

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What is rejection sensitivity?

When your child disappears into their room, is prone to being "too sensitive," and often takes things to heart, it seems like it's not a big deal to you.

Your child's intense reaction to any perceived rejection is overwhelming, and you watch your child spiral downwards. Something seemingly insignificant to you — like a friend not returning a text — can produce an intense and lasting reaction.

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Kids with ADHD often feel like outsiders.

Often, children with ADHD have felt like the outsider, watching from the sidelines while others enjoy playdates, get invited to birthday parties, or are asked to "just chill."

Your calming suggestion that perhaps the child is not being rejected goes unheard.

These children create coping strategies to avoid uncomfortable situations. 

As the child approaches third grade and beyond, they've often already developed a strategy to "go under the radar." Perhaps they're always carrying a book with them, so they can duck behind the pages as a perceived threat or uncomfortable situation approaches.

How is it that our sweet, young, innocent children have developed such mature coping mechanisms on their own at such an early age? Because they had to!

The pain of rejection for kids struggling with rejection sensitivity is extreme.

The pain involved when rejected — whether real or imagined — is so great that they will create and rely on techniques to help them avoid further pain.

Could they be so good at this disguise that they even slide below our "radar," too? Could it be that they are so good at masking this pain, that even we don’t realize it is happening until it's too late?

Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria is a term coined by William Dodson, M.D., to describe the extreme pain when rejection — or perceived rejection — is experienced.

This pain produces a reaction that is often exaggerated due to a heightened stimulus to the fight, flight, or freeze mode in our reptilian brains, particularly in people with ADHD.

When your child is experiencing rejection sensitivity, here are 3 steps to help them manage.

1. Figure out how typical intense triggers and events feel in the body.

The best strategies to deal with rejection sensitivity are those that involve future planning to soften the blow of intense situations and feelings.

To help avoid these intense reactions and calm your brain and body in the moment, I invented the "Intensity Meter" so you can figure out "How intense does it feel?"

How intense this reaction feels in your body indicates which strategy you need to use in order to restore oxygen and blood back to the deeper regions of the brain and calm your body.

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2. Pick your strategies.

Now that you know how intense these emotions feel, you can begin to pick strategies ahead of time to use when your reaction has reached a seven, eight, nine, or 10 in order to stop that runaway cycle and help regain control so it returns to the wise-thinking brain.

This calming is like an engine of a car that is overheated and revved up.

Physical strategies cue your body that "You got this!" there's no threat, and it can stop the alarm system from blaring.

3. Develop everyday strategies.

This keeps your thinking brain in charge and fends off the runaway reaction cycle.

The more you intervene with a strategy when your reaction starts, the more you can avoid your body going into fight, flight, or freeze.

The more you engage in daily strategies to prevent or prepare for Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, the better things will be for you and your children!

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Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them. For more information, visit her website.

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