It's no secret that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make everyday tasks challenging. For many parents, though, the way their ADHD affects their parenting can be an uncomfortable topic. After all, every parent wants to provide his or her child with a great start, but ADHD can undermine this ability. With 8 million adults – four percent of the adult population – experiencing ADHD in a given year, the role ADHD plays in parenting is increasingly important.
How ADHD Undermines Parenting
For those suffering from the disorder, the symptoms of ADHD are well-known: difficulty concentrating, irritability, restlessness, trouble controlling anger, impulsive behavior, and challenges with long-term planning and maintaining a schedule. These symptoms don't make exceptions for children, which means that they can affect virtually every area of parenting. Some of the struggles parents with ADHD face include:
• Difficulty managing a schedule. Over time, this difficulty can affect the child's schedule. A child of an ADHD parent, for example, might regularly attend school without her books or supplies, miss class events, or otherwise struggle to keep up.
• Challenges with maintaining patience. Parents with ADHD are more likely to lose their tempers and engage in parenting practices – such as spanking – that they don't want to adopt.
• Challenges with managing the stress of parenting. Parents with ADHD may struggle to balance their jobs with parenting, may find themselves overwhelmed by their children's emotions, and may constantly feel like they're playing catch-up.
• Difficulties with parenting style. Parents with ADHD may become needlessly authoritarian and punitive, or may struggle to remain focused on their children. Parents with ADHD tend to praise their children less frequently and offer less frequent constructive feedback.
Of course, ADHD by no means dooms parents to bad parenting. Parents who get treatment are well-equipped to manage the daily stresses of life with ADHD, and even parents who don't' get treatment may be able to cope. Having ADHD undeniably makes parenting more difficult, though, and parents with ADHD frequently have to work harder to control their behavior and manage the daily challenges of life as a parent.
The Role of ADHD Treatment
A shocking 80% of adults with ADHD have not received a diagnosis, suggesting that the number of adults with ADHD might be significantly higher than estimates suggest. Of adults who have been diagnosed with the disorder, though, only about 25% have sought treatment. For parents with the disorder, this almost certainly means they're not parenting as well as they could.
Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine wanted to evaluate how an ADHD stimulant medication would affect parenting skills in parents diagnosed with ADHD. They evaluated 20 parents whose children ranged in age from five to 12. In the first phase of the study, researchers observed parents interacting with their children in a lab setting. Parents helped their children with homework, played with their children, then worked on paperwork as their children quietly played. Parents received a stimulant medication during one portion of this phase, and a placebo during another portion of the study. The study used a double-blind study model. This approach is the gold standard in scientific research, and ensured that neither parents nor researchers knew when a parent had taken a placebo and when they had taken the study drug – making it much more difficult for expectations or bias to color the outcome of the experiment.
The researchers found that parents who took the medication adopted a more positive approach to parenting, making fewer negative statements during playtime and as they filled out paperwork. The medication did not affect the way parents interacted with their children while working on homework, but researchers did note that children behaved better during schoolwork if their parents were on the ADHD medication.
In phase II of the experiment, half of the parents continued on active drug treatment for a month, with the other half taking a placebo. At the end of the month, researchers repeated the lab observations. They found, yet again, that the active agent improved parenting. Specifically, parents who took the medication praised their children more readily, responded to their children more quickly, and worked more collaboratively with their children, issuing fewer commands. Children of parents in the active group also displayed better behavior while working on homework.
The sample size was a small one, so more research could help to clarify the effects by duplicating this study's results. The details of this study were published in the July issue of CNS Drugs.
An Intergenerational Disorder
Parents with ADHD potentially expose their children to more chaotic and challenging environments, potentially making it more difficult for a child to manage her condition or symptoms. Parents who don't treat their ADHD may even model unhealthy behaviors and coping mechanisms to their children. For example, a mother with ADHD who never plans her time or who frequently misses appointments models this same behavior to her child, causing poor time management and chaos to feel “normal.”
Both parents and children with ADHD do better when their conditions are well-managed. A parent whose ADHD is treated is better equipped to deal with symptoms of ADHD in his or her child. Addi tonally, prompt and effective treatment shows children at risk of developing ADHD that the condition is highly treatable and does not have to undermine quality of life or the ability to reach goals.
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