ADHD May Be Linked to Persistent Parental Criticism


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Illustration courtesy of iStock

For many children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, symptoms appear to decrease as they age, but for some they do not. One reason may be persistent parental criticism, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
In a three-year study of 388 children with ADHD and 127 without, as well as their family members, researchers measured changes in ADHD symptoms over that period and also measured the parents’ levels of criticism and emotional involvement. Of the children with ADHD, 69 percent were male, 79 percent were white and 75 percent came from two-parent households.
Parents were asked to talk about their relationship with their child uninterrupted for five minutes. Audio recordings were rated by experts for levels of criticism (harsh, negative statements about the child, rather than the child's behavior) and emotional over-involvement (overprotective feelings toward the child). Measurements were taken on two occasions one year apart. 
Only sustained parental criticism (high levels at both measurements) was associated with the continuance of ADHD symptoms in the children who had been diagnosed with ADHD.
“We cannot say, from our data, that criticism is the cause of the sustained symptoms,” said lead author Erica Musser, PhD. “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 well-being in the family over time.”
The study was published in the "Journal of Abnormal Psychology."
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