KEEPING IT POSITIVE WHILE PARENTING A CHILD WITH ADHD

positive parenting

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a complex syndrome involving a myriad of symptoms including hyperactivity, inattention, forgetfulness, and impulsivity that is often comorbid with a number of cognitive and behavioral disorders. As stressful as this can be for a child suffering from symptoms of ADHD, it can be just as stressful for parents and caregivers of these children. Parenting a child with ADHD can be difficult and often discouraging. This is an important point since it is commonly known that how parents react can have huge impacts on the success of their children.

Feelings of Inadequacy

Although parenting always encompasses feelings of doubt and worry, parents of children with ADHD report more frequent negative feelings such as:

  • inadequacy of their parenting
  • anger at their child
  • worry about the success and futures of their children
  • guilt of not being able to provide adequate help
  • feelings helplessness about not being able to control child behaviors
  • isolation (socially) due to fear of a public behavioral issue
  • anxiety and depression

The lack of ability of parents to be able to help their children and control the symptoms of ADHD plays a large part of the total parental stress. In a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology in 2011, researchers found that many of the feelings of depression, discouragement, and inadequacy in parenting experienced by parents resulted from their perception that their children were not responsive to behavior correction techniques that were employed. In other words, most parental stress stems from a perceived inability to control the behavioral issues of their children. A separate study by psychologists at the University of Irvine, CA, investigated the intricacies of this relationship between parental stress and ADHD behaviors. In this study, researchers had mothers of children with ADHD keep a journal and record entries as to their moods/feelings and their children’s behaviors. Separate journals were also kept by the children recording their own behaviors. The study uncovered a direct association between negative mood and stress of the mothers in the study and the presence of typical ADHD behaviors such as hyperactivity and impulsivity2. Furthermore, other research has shown links between dysfunctional parenting styles and increased ADHD symptoms reported in children3.

Given these results, one can imagine a daunting positive feedback loop where ADHD symptoms and behaviors cause heightened parental stress. Stress leads to dysfunctional and negative parenting behaviors, which in turn, exacerbates ADHD behaviors.

The Power of Positive Perception

The key to less stress and better outcomes in the child/parent relationship is to remain positive. Fortunately, not all of the research out there has a grim outlook. One study focused on parent perceptions using a group of parents who view their child’s ADHD-associated behaviors as being indicative of underlying positive traits. For instance, a parent of a child who is inattentive in class views this as a sign that the child is bored with the material due to superior intelligence. Another example of this type of parent perception would be the view that children who exhibit hyperactivity do so because they possess a heightened sensitivity to the world around them. The study, which was published in the Journal of Attention Disorders, focused on this group of parents who had children with ADHD and compared them to a control group, who did not associate their child’s ADHD symptoms with any positive traits. The researchers found that parents in the “positive perception” group reported less frequent negative interactions with their children and overall experienced less stress and negative emotions in dealings with their children4. While not all parents view ADHD-associated behaviors in a positive light, it is still possible to positively influence parenting of children with ADHD. One technique that is achieving good results is parent training (PT), a complex program of family treatment which emphasizes teaching parents how to react more positively to their child’s behaviors. PT aims to change parenting behaviors for the better by replacing dysfunctional or ineffective parenting techniques with functional ones, and by focusing on the parental use of positive reinforcement. The desired result is to greatly improve parent/child interactions, thereby improving child behavioral outcomes and alleviating parental stress.

  1. Glaz, T. et. al. Parents’ reactions to youths’ hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention problems. 2011. J. Abnorm. Child Psychol. Nov;39(8): 1125-35.
  2. Whalen, C.K., et. al. Dissecting Daily Distress in Mothers of children with ADHD: an Electronic Diary Study. 2011. J. Fam. Psychol. Jun;25(3): 402-11.
  3. Ullsperger, J.M., et.al. Does Child Temperament Play a Role in the Association Between Parenting Practices and Child Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder? 2016. J. Abnorm. child Psychol. Jan;44(1): 167-178.
  4. Lench, H.C. et. al. Exasperating or Exceptional? Parents’ interpretations of their child’s ADHD behavior. 2013. J. Atten. Disord. Feb;17(2): 141-51.
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