While many children diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often see a decrease in symptoms as they reach their teens, WebMD reports that a recent study has shown that overly critical parenting could inhibit this improvement.
During the three-year study, researchers followed 388 children diagnosed with ADHD and their families. The levels of criticism and over protectiveness from the parents were assessed twice over that time.
In order to measure the extent of criticism and over-protectiveness, researchers interviewed the parents regarding their relationships with their children.
Criticism was measured according to how many harsh or negative statements were made by the parents about their child, rather than the child’s behavior. Over-protectiveness was determined by how emotionally involved the parents were in their children’s lives.
The results showed that only overt parental criticism was linked with continued ADHD symptoms going into teenage years.
“The [new] finding here is that children with ADHD whose families continued to express high levels of criticism over time failed to experience the usual decline in symptoms with age, and instead maintained persistent, high levels of ADHD symptoms,” said lead author and assistant professor of psychology at Florida International University in Miami Erica Musser.
While there appears to be a strong association with lasting ADHD symptoms, there isn’t substantial evidence that constant criticism is the direct cause in these situations.
Nonetheless, according to King 5 ABC of Washington, Seattle Children’s researcher Mark Stein believes that the key to improving ADHD symptoms in children may be to first treat the parents, especially mothers who may suffer from the disorder themselves.
“If you’re treating a child with ADHD and the parent has it, the child is less likely to respond,” said Stein.
Unfortunately, because these symptoms are often milder in adult mothers, they’re less likely to be diagnosed. However, boys are nearly twice as likely to have ever been diagnosed with ADHD than girls, meaning that mothers with the condition are hopefully few and far between.
An unusual study called “Mother’s First” will be used to determine whether or not Stein’s assumptions are true.
Over the span of 16 weeks, participants will be treated with medication for the mothers, behavioral training, or a combination of both; no medication will be given to the children.
In addition to studying how parent-child relationships affect those with ADHD, the results may also shine some light on how effective early intervention can be in reducing the severity of symptoms in children.