Parent-child conflict is common, especially when children reach adolescence. For families with ADHD children, that level of conflict may be even higher when the child reaches the teen years. Most research on children with attention-deficit hyperactivity and family conflict has provided data based on self-reports of the child and the mother. Few studies have considered the father’s perspective, particularly with respect to attribution and responsibility. To address this void in literature, Clarisa Markel of the Human Development and Applied Psychology Department at the University of Toronto recently led a study that looked at how mothers and fathers rated the levels of conflict with their ADHD children. She examined how the parents attributed the conflict—in other words, whether they believed the conflict was instigated by the child. She also looked at how these conflict attributions and rates compared with those of families without ADHD children.
Markel reviewed that data gathered from 51 parent dyads of adolescents with and without ADHD and found that there were more conflicts reported by the families with ADHD children than those without. She also discovered that although mothers and fathers did not attribute the conflicts to ADHD children more than non-ADHD children, the fathers did report more problems communicating with their ADHD children than the mothers did. This finding was particularly interesting because previous research has shown that mothers and fathers of ADHD children often exhibit symptoms of ADHD themselves. However, it appears that mothers are more empathetic than fathers toward their children’s issue, and tend to recognize that ADHD behaviors are not always under their child’s control.
In contrast, fathers, especially those with ADHD, may have little patience and tolerance for the disruptive and defiant behavior of their children. Therefore, even though they may acknowledge that when their children were little, their behavior was beyond their control, they may not still view conflict and communication problems as a byproduct of ADHD when their children reach adolescence. This could explain why they reported more child-parent conflict than the mothers of ADHD children, and more overall conflict of mothers and fathers of non-ADHD children. Markel believes clinicians could help their families with ADHD, and without, by addressing all of these issues in a family therapy environment rather than solely focusing on parental behavior practices and child emotional regulation strategies. “Clinicians need to foster communication among family members when there are high levels of conflict,” she added.
Markel, C., & Wiener, J. (2012). Attribution processes in parent-adolescent conflict in families of adolescents with and without ADHD. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029854
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