CLEVELAND – Parenting young children often comes with daily challenges, but for parents who have children with ADHD coupled with extreme emotional reactions, the challenges can be significant.
Now, a recent study shows that parenting styles can make a real difference.
Researchers studied parents of preschool-aged children with ADHD and looked at their physiological responses – their heart rate and their behavioral and emotional reactions – to both positive and negative parenting tactics.
They found that when children were given reinforcing messages, instead of shouting and criticism, they were able to breathe more slowly and were calmer.
Cleveland Clinic’s Michael Manos, Ph.D., did not take part in the study, but said it shows negative parenting can have negative impact.
He said using negative parenting strategies like physical punishment, yelling, using threats and ultimatums will typically result in a child trying to avoid the parent they see as a ‘punishing’ agent and can even provoke them to become counter aggressive.
“If someone continually is critical of you, or does something that is continuously negative or aversive toward you, like using negative parenting, a child will tend to avoid them or show other side effects associated with aversive consequences,” said Dr. Manos. “One side effect, counter aggression, is very common in many children – not because of some innate characteristic in the child – but because of the quality of the previous interaction with the parent.”
Dr. Manos said children learn to manage themselves more effectively when parents use a positive approach – and this is true for all children, not just those with ADHD.
When parents feel their child’s behavior is getting the best of them, Dr. Manos said the first thing to do, before responding, is to stop and check in with themselves, rather than engaging in a reactive response such as yelling, spanking or threatening.
He said one useful strategy is to describe the child’s feelings to them.
“Often, using simple, descriptive statements to describe a child’s feeling – to give a child words that they can use to describe their own feeling – gives them control over it,” he said.
Dr. Manos said it’s helpful for parents to be mindful of the bigger picture – which is building a good and lasting relationship with their child.
“It’s useful to look at this in the context that you are – not just trying to manage your child’s behavior now, when the child is seven or eight or nine years old – but, managing your relationship with your child. You are building a relationship that will last the rest of your life and your child’s life with you.”