Biology-Psychology Building
Biology-Psychology Building

Developing a parenting and emotional management program for mothers of children with ADHD can lead to happier, healthier mothers and significant benefits for their children, a university research study has found.

The study, conducted by psychology professor Andrea Chronis-Tuscano and her team, found that an integrated method of parenting would improve not only the mental health of the mothers of children with ADHD but also the lives and behavior of the children.

“I think that when moms feel better, they can do a better job with parenting,” Chronis-Tuscano said.

Children with ADHD require extra attention, medication, praise and consistency, Chronis-Tuscano said, and it can become a lot of work for a mother to handle. And while this comes with enough stress, the study found that at least 50 percent of mothers of children with ADHD have a lifetime history of major depressive disorder, she said. This called for helpful parenting methods, the team found.

When parents don’t go about raising children in optimal ways, Chronis-Tuscano said, a child’s ADHD is likely to become even more severe. This could in turn lead to behavioral problems, illegal conduct or even suicide attempts, she added.

Because mothers in some of these cases suffer from depression, they are more susceptible to anger, have less energy and may not engage positively with their children — something a child with ADHD needs, Chronis-Tuscano said.

“You have to take care of yourself, or you’re not going to be able to take care of your child,” Chronis-Tuscano said.

The way mothers feel, she said, affects not only how they react toward their children but also how children manage their disorders and consequently behave.

The study examined both the parenting techniques and depression symptoms of mothers. Two groups of families with children with ADHD — ranging from ages 6 to 12 years old — were isolated and instructed to use different parent training programs. Over the span of a few months, one group used an integrated parenting intervention, including both behavioral parent training and cognitive behavioral depression treatment, while the other used standard behavioral parent training with their children. In March, the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology published the research.

The integrated parenting intervention stressed both parenting techniques and depression treatments for the mothers. This parenting style, Chronis-Tuscano said, allows the mothers to learn to praise their children’s positive behavior while also practicing relaxation techniques when their children engage in negative behavior. By taking care of oneself, she said, a mother can be a more effective parent.

“I think we don’t spend enough time looking into the way parents are raising their children,” said Demi Adamopoulos, a sophomore psychology major. “By focusing less on the children and more on the parents, we will find that many behavioral problems that exist are due to the environment that the child is raised in.”

This method of parenting could also lead to more answers regarding the disorder, as fewer people will be looking for blame and more will be looking for a change, Adamopoulos added. Asking parents to structure their homes on routines for consistency creates a stronger environment for the child, Chronis-Tuscano said, and the depression treatment on top of it makes the ultimate difference so the mother can react in the best possible way.

In the future, Chronis-Tuscano wants to expand this research, possibly following younger kids for a longer period of time. At a younger age, development is more malleable. And the more time to examine the behavior, she added, the greater a difference can be made.

“What we really want to do is to try to help these parents be the best parents that they could possibly be,” Chronis-Tuscano said.