Critical Parents and ADHD

An article in the Guardian explains that approximately two-thirds of children with ADHD will continue to experience some symptoms in adulthood. A new study has suggested that it depends on the child's relationship with their family.

ADHD can affect everything from finding employment and developing relationships, to being more likely to be involved in crime.

Over three years, a group of researchers led by Erica Musser, an assistant professor of psychology at Florida International University, studied 388 children with ADHD – and their parents.

The parents were recorded talking about their children for five minutes, and afterwards, these recordings were analysed for criticism of the child and “emotional over-involvement” (being overprotective or overly self-sacrificing). This was repeated a year later, and their child’s ADHD symptoms were also recorded.

They found a link between persistent high levels of criticism and continuing high levels of ADHD symptoms, though Musser has been careful to say that parental criticism was not “the cause of the sustained symptoms. Interventions to reduce parental criticism could lead to a reduction in ADHD symptoms, but other efforts to improve the severe symptoms of children with ADHD could also lead to a reduction in parental criticism, creating greater wellbeing in the family over time.”

The idea of a “cycle of negativity” in the relationship between the child and its parents is well established in thinking about ADHD, but Dr Susan Young, the president of the UK ADHD Partnership, is wary of blaming the parents. “I’d be very concerned that there is a negative connotation that says it’s a parent’s fault that they are amplifying ADHD symptoms,” she says. “It can be very challenging as a parent to manage a child with behavioural problems who can’t control their emotions.”

Furthermore, she says, with around 80% of ADHD traits being hereditary, many parents of children with the disorder will have it themselves, with a high likelihood that it is unidentified and undiagnosed. They may be trying to embrace their role as a parent, “while managing their ADHD symptoms”.

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