Constant criticism from parents reduces the likelihood that children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) will have fewer symptoms by the time they reach their teens, a new study suggests.
In many cases, ADHD symptoms decrease as children get older. But this doesn’t occur in all cases. And the new study findings suggest that parental criticism may be a factor.
For the study, researchers followed 388 children with ADHD and their families for three years. The parents’ levels of criticism and overprotectiveness were assessed two times one year apart.
To determine levels of parental criticism and overprotectiveness, the investigators asked parents to talk about their relationship with their child. Experts then rated the level of criticism by how many harsh, negative statements the parents made about their child, rather than about the child’s behavior. Overprotectiveness was measured by determining levels of emotional overinvolvement.
Only constant parental criticism was associated with ongoing ADHD symptoms in the children into their teen years, according to the study published Feb. 8 in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
“The [new] finding here is that children with ADHD whose families continued to express high levels of criticism over time failed to experience the usual decline in symptoms with age, and instead maintained persistent, high levels of ADHD symptoms,” lead author Erica Musser said in a journal news release. Musser is an assistant professor of psychology at Florida International University in Miami.
While there is an association, the study does not actually show that parental criticism is the cause of ongoing ADHD symptoms, she added.
“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,” Musser said.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about ADHD.