Parental Criticism May Worsen ADHD Symptoms

Many children with ADHD see their symptoms improve as they get older. However, kids whose parents persistently criticize them show more severe symptoms as they age.
ADHD News Feed | posted by Devon Frye

Posted on February 22, 2016

Overly negative parenting may do more than harm a child’s self-esteem. Recent research indicates that it may lead to more challenging and persistent ADHD symptoms.

A new study, published earlier this month in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, found that ongoing and persistent attention deficit symptoms were closely associated with high parental criticism of a child. The research team that conducted the study, led by Erica Musser, Ph.D., of Florida International University, looked at 388 children with ADHD — as well as 127 control patients without ADHD. The team measured parental criticism and overprotectiveness over time. In two 5-minute recorded interviews taken one year apart, parents were asked several questions about their relationship with their child. Researchers rated use of harsh descriptive terms, overall levels of negativity, and emotional over-involvement.

The children whose parents demonstrated consistently critical views of them as people — as opposed to criticism focused solely on undesirable behaviors — showed more severe and persistent symptoms of ADHD by the time they reached their teen years. This association was especially apparent in children with high levels of hyperactivity or children with comorbid oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

“The novel 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 Musser in a press release.

At this point, the researchers said, there’s no way of knowing if ADHD symptoms are exacerbated by high levels of parental criticism, or if there is merely an association between the two. But leading ADHD experts estimate that by age 12, children with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages — from parents, peers, or otherwise — than those without the condition. Adults and children with ADHD often report lower self-esteem than neurotypical peers — particularly if the ADHD was undiagnosed or left undertreated.

Regardless of the cause, Musser says, more could be done to address the severity of symptoms and levels of parental criticism head-on. “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.”


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