harsh punishment in check helps kids with ADHD, study finds
Biological, behavioral improvements follow
November 7, 2017
Ohio State University
Cutting back on yelling, criticism and
other harsh parenting approaches, including physical punishment, has the power
to calm children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a
Cutting back on yelling,
criticism and other harsh parenting approaches, including physical punishment,
has the power to calm children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,
according to a new study.
Researchers from The Ohio
State University evaluated physiological markers of emotional regulation in
preschool children with ADHD before and after a parent and child intervention
aimed at improving family relations. Changes in parenting — including less
yelling and physical discipline — led to improvements in children’s biological
“This is the first
study to show that improved parenting changes kids biologically,” said
Theodore Beauchaine, the study’s senior author and a professor of psychology at
“The idea is to
change family dynamics so these highly vulnerable kids don’t run into big
problems down the road, including delinquency and criminal behavior.”
The study appears in the
journal Clinical Psychological Science.
Parents of 99
preschoolers with ADHD received parenting coaching — half during 20 weekly
two-hour sessions and half during 10 similar sessions. The parents learned
skills including problem-solving, positive parenting techniques and effective
responses to their children’s behaviors. Meanwhile, their children met with
therapists who reinforced topics such as emotional regulation and anger
Before the training
began, parents (usually moms) and their children engaged in play sessions that
included an intentionally frustrating block-building exercise. Parents dumped a
large container of blocks on the floor and were told not to touch the blocks
and to coach their children on how to build progressively complex structures.
During the exercise, the
children were tethered to equipment that recorded their heart activity.
Abnormal patterns of heart activity are common among children who have trouble
controlling their emotions, including some children with ADHD, Beauchaine said.
After parent coaching was
complete, the researchers had families return to the lab for retesting to
determine if the training sessions led to changes in parenting and heart
activity among children.
Reductions in negative
parenting were found to drive improved biological function in children.
Increases in positive parenting had no effect.
The researchers also
observed each parent and child during a 30-minute play session in the family home
and video-recorded positive and negative parenting approaches. Positive
parenting included praise, encouragement and problem-solving. Negative
parenting included critical statements, physical discipline and commands that
gave children no opportunity to comply.
Less-harsh parenting also
was linked to improved behavior in children, a finding that bolsters previous
research in this area.
interactions between parents and children have a big effect on kids,”
Greater improvements in parenting
were seen in those who had 20 weeks of classes, versus 10. Regardless, the
intervention was relatively short, Beauchaine said.
“Just 20 weeks to
observe this much change is somewhat surprising,” he said.
Children in the study all
struggled primarily with hyperactivity and impulsivity, as opposed to
inattention. Most of them — 76 percent — were boys, which is similar to ADHD
rates in the general population. Families were participants in Beauchaine’s
work with collaborators at the University of Washington. One limitation of the
study is that it did not include a control group of parents and children who
did not receive lessons.
Beauchaine said it is
important to recognize the tremendous parenting challenges that moms and dads
of children with ADHD face.
“A lot of times,
these young kids and their parents don’t like each other much. We strive to
change that. It’s challenging for parents, because these kids can be hard to
raise,” he said.
“The idea is not to
blame parents or kids, but to look for ways to help them both.”
1. Ziv Bell, Tiffany Shader,
Carolyn Webster-Stratton, M. Jamila Reid, Theodore P. Beauchaine. Improvements
in Negative Parenting Mediate Changes in Children’s Autonomic Responding
Following a Preschool Intervention for ADHD. Clinical Psychological
Science, 2017; 216770261772755 DOI: 10.1177/2167702617727559