Overly critical parents tied to ongoing ADHD symptoms in children

Though symptoms often decrease over time for children living with ADHD, those with overly critical parents don’t always experience the same relief, according to Florida International University Psychologist Erica D. Musser.

In a recently published study, Musser evaluated audio statements by parents about their children. She listened for both harsh, negative statements about the child, as well as overprotective feelings toward the child. The parents were evaluated twice, one year apart. For parents who were found to exhibit sustained levels of criticism — both in negative comments and overprotective feelings — their children failed to exhibit the same level of decline in symptoms as children whose parents who were not found to be overly critical.

CCF_OutsidePanel-1_Right_iStock_000000341949Medium“The novel 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,” said Musser, whose research focuses on behavior, cognition and emotion in FIU’s Center for Children and Families.

The study was published this week in the American Psychological Association and the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. The researchers evaluated 388 children with ADHD and 127 without, as well as their families, over three years.

While the findings indicate an association between sustained parental criticism and ADHD symptoms over time, this doesn’t mean one thing causes the other, according to Musser.

“We cannot say, from our data, that criticism is the cause of the sustained symptoms,” she said. “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.”