• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Friday 09th May, 2008

Welsh ADHD study uncovers a two-way stretch

Any parent of a preschooler will describe only too vividly the days when they “lost it”. The whining restlessness, temper tantrums and power struggles will sometimes sink the most even-keeled mother or father. Most children aren’t like this all day or everyday – but a small percentage are. At one extreme are children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). They have a particularly difficult time controlling their behavior and parenting can become a daily struggle to stay loving and supportive through the storm of difficult, embarrassing and abusive behavior.Consider, for example, the worrying ambiguity in this posting to the the i-Village website’s ADHD pages. The writer is describing her son’s behavior prior to being medicated:“He had to be strapped down in a chair in preschool to do work, would get up, run around, bite people, push people, and if you tried to correct him, watch out. He gave one of the student teachers, who put him into time out, a bloody lip when he was four-years-old.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health's discussion of ADHD between three and five percent of children are affected.ADHD is considered highly heritable, meaning that genetic make-up seems to be the primary cause. However, there is evidence that the way parents treat children also has some effect. And, given the difficulties involved in raising an ADHD child, it is not surprising that the influence goes both ways: not only do parents affect their children’s behavior, but children with ADHD also affect their parents’ behavior.A recent study by Kate Lifford and colleagues in the Schools of Medicine and Psychology at Cardiff University in the UK found that fathers’ and mothers’ relationships with children displaying ADHD symptoms (but not necessarily diagnosed with the disorder) differed from one another. The study included 194 school-aged children living with both parents. Over the course of three years, the researchers repeatedly asked mothers and fathers whether their children exhibited ADHD symptoms and asked the children about their feelings of rejection from their mothers and fathers. Their findings suggest that children’s symptoms have a corrosive effect on the mother-child relationship. However, in the case of father-child relationship, the dynamic tends to work in the opposite direction: rejection by the father appears to trigger more ADHD symptoms in the child. The researchers could only speculate about the underlying processes. They wondered, for example, if the difference might simply be a result of mothers spending more time with their children on everyday tasks (such preparing for school) and fathers spending more time on specific tasks.The team call for more studies, specifically those that could help explain differences in how mothers and fathers influence and are influenced by their children. They also call for larger studies that include one-parent families.• Summary of “Parent–Child Relationships and ADHD Symptoms: A Longitudinal Analysis” by Kate J Lifford, Gordon T Harold and Anita Thapar in Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Volume 36, Number 2, February, 2008, pp 285-296.

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