Conflict with an ADHD Child from a Father’s Perspective

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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  • Marvin

    December 16th, 2012 at 7:48 AM

    First of all the parents and siblings of children and adolescents with disorders like adhd need to be aware of the condition and understand how it can influence the child/adolescent.they will then naturally be more understanding and empathetic to the child.I can see how mothers are btter at this – they are generally more empathetic and concerned of the child.But the father needs to do just as good.Because these parents are heaping so much pressure on the child by letting these conflicts continue without actually seeing how adhd affects that.

  • Julie

    December 16th, 2012 at 9:48 AM

    Truth be told, I think that men have a harder time dealing with situations like this when they kind of break that typical cookie cutter mold.
    I think that a lot of men have this stereotypical idea of what their kids should be like and when they veer a little far from the norm for them, then they have a hard time with that.
    Personally I find that moms are a lot more accepting of these kinds of differences than men usually are.

  • angela

    December 16th, 2012 at 2:28 PM

    a father that does not understand the problems of a child with ADHD wouldn’t do so even if he were told about is due to ignorance that we discriminate against or hurt people,it is due to ignorance that we may hurt people even unknowingly.knowledge is power and when you have a child with ADHD it is imperative that you shoulder the additional responsibility that it entails!

  • Lange

    December 17th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    I know how my own father would have reacted if someone would have told him that I had ADHD- he would have told me to suck it up and behave myself before he tied me to the desk. Honestly that’s the truth. It’s not that he wouldn’t understand, but understanding and tolerance are two very different things. I think that he was more like your behavior is under your control, that you are the only one in control of it, so you better make the right choices. I agree that my mom probably would have been far more understanding than he would have been. It’s not that he didn’t love us, but he just had certain expectations for behavior that you better meet or else.

  • Simon.T

    December 17th, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    I think its the frustration that pushes fathers toward such behavior.Also it may not be a constant thing you know.Sometimes when you are caring for someone for so long you do tend to lose it at times,there’s no harm in that.Except that the child should not be exposed to this ‘losing it’.Frustrations are fine but vent them out in better ways,don’t let it affect the child should be the message.

  • Sarah

    December 17th, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    During my childhood, it was not my mother who understood and was tolerent, it was my wonderful step-father. He was always there to listen to my side, even if it didn’t change the outcome. Just being listened to and understood made my adolescence more bearable. Due to this I now have a fantastic relationship with my ADHD teenaer, I’m not saying there is never any drama, but when there is we talk about the issues and the consequences linked to them.

  • Gwen

    December 21st, 2012 at 8:18 AM

    I’m curious if the investigator asked the mother, father, siblings and child with ADHD how much knowledge they had on the topic and what their sources of information were. Many people get their information from the internet today or friends experiences which may not be the same as their child’s. Plus, there’s quite a bit of misinformation out there.

    There is research that suggests men are slower to accept the ADHD behind their child’s behavior often attributing it to normal boy behavior. In addition, since ADHD is highly heritable and their are many undiagnosed adults out there, they may find the behavior normal because that’s what they experienced growing up.

    I question whether it’s only fathers who are impatient with the ADHD behaviors. Any parent taking care of a child with special needs can suffer from burnout and exhaustion. Typically I would say it’s the main caregiving parent because they’re constantly exposed to it day in and day out.

    If either the mom, dad or both have ADHD that throws a whole different dynamic into the mix. They may see some of their own behavior in their child which frustrates them or on the flip side…they may not make the connection at all?

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