Empowering Parents of ADHD Children May Benefit Parent and Child

Parents of ADHD children experience elevated levels of stress and often find their role dissatisfying. Some exhibit depressive symptoms as well. But a new study suggests that it is not the hyperactive-impulsive, attention (HIA) behavior of the child that causes these emotions, but rather the lack of control a parent of an ADHD child feels. “Theoretically, it has been suggested that children with ADHD often have an underactive behavioral inhibition system, which means they are unresponsive to cues of possible punishment,” said Terese Glatz of the Center for Developmental Research at JPS, Orebro University, Sweden, and lead author of the study. “Given that HIA and ADHD are similarly connected to parenting, this theory suggests that parents of children who are high on HIA should experience problems getting their children to follow directions and they should find rule setting essentially ineffective.” This problem leaves a parent feeling powerless over their child. “According to this model, parents with low perceived power will view their children’s behavior as threatening and respond by behaving negatively toward their children. In contrast, high perceived power is expected to buffer against negative parenting behaviors,” said Glatz. “Thus, these results show that parents’ attributions about their power or lack thereof may be critically important when explaining why parents behave negatively toward children.”

In order to determine the link between a parent’s perception of their ADHD child and their parenting style, Glatz and her colleagues followed ADHD preteens and their parents for five years, assessing their behavior annually. They found that parents who viewed their teen as non-compliant experienced more stress and exhibited more negative parenting behaviors. Glatz said, “This questions earlier studies because it implies that it is not hyperactivity, impulsivity, and attention problems, per se, that are stressful for parents and to which they react. Instead, these behaviors seem to influence parents negatively because they are perceived as outside parents’ control.” She added, “The results of this study suggest a need for parental empowerment to help parents interpret their parenting qualities positively and to find alternative ways of managing their youths’ behaviors. Feelings of powerlessness influence parents’ practices negatively, and since these feelings are reality for many parents, they must be taken seriously in future research and clinical practice.”

Glatz, Terese, Hakan Stattin, and Margaret Kerr. “Parents’ Reactions to Youths’ Hyperactivity, Impulsivity, and Attention Problems.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 39 (2011): 1123-135. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Samantha


    October 27th, 2011 at 4:19 AM

    Well yes it is as good idea to empower the parents in these cases. I mean these are parents who must feel like their own lives are spinning out of control because of the behavior that they are having to be a witness to and a part of with the child. ADHD is no laughing matter. There are numerous issues that come up as a result of living with this. But if parents are educated and have the tools at their disposal to deal with it then the situation does not always have to leave them feeling at a loss with their lives or wiht what is going on with their child.

  • gwen


    October 27th, 2011 at 11:30 AM

    You know your child has ADHD and you learn about it by reading and through other sources. If you still try to punish your child and behave like what is mentioned here,then I don’t think you qualify to be a parent,sorry!

  • Emmy


    October 27th, 2011 at 4:12 PM

    One of the best things that you can do to help the parents of these children is to let them know time and again that this is not their fault. But at the same time you have to teach them positive ways to deal with the behavior. With ADHD kids they sometimes have to be handled with kid gloves because their reality is so different from kids who are thei same age. Teaching them meaningful ways to make a difference with the kids is something that educators and therapists and pediatricians can do to raise awareness about what ADHD is and is not, and gives them a way to manage in any situation that may arise.

  • Pauline


    October 28th, 2011 at 4:30 AM

    Like I always told my own kids: I am the mom, you are the child. What I say goes. I don’t think that I would have felt any less in control had one of them had ADHD. Maybe I would have had to do some reading on the subject and tried some new methods of parenting now and then but ultimately I think that I would have been able to maintain control. Kids need that discipline and structure, and maybe what works for one will not work for the other, but get creative and you will always find a way to reach them.

  • wendy d

    wendy d

    October 29th, 2011 at 11:27 PM

    “Parents with low perceived power will view their children’s behavior as threatening and respond by behaving negatively toward their children. In contrast, high perceived power is expected to buffer against negative parenting behaviors”

    this hits the bull’s eye.parents of kids with ADHD have to realize that the difference between them and others is because of the kid’s condition and its no use trying to go overboard due to wrong perception.if and when they do realize this,the negative parenting will end too.

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