How raising a child with ADHD can test a parent

Parenting can be tough business, but when your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) the task can often be overwhelming.

Over time, that stress can give rise to a certain amount of friction between the parent and child, one expert notes.

Negative impact for parents

Dara Babinski, a child psychologist with Penn State Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has spent considerable time delving into the issue.

The first thing to know, she said, is that ADHD can manifest in many different ways. In some cases the disorder – which is usually diagnosed during childhood – can centre around a child with difficulty focusing or completing tasks.

For others, the main issues may have more to do with impulsive behaviour, such as incessantly moving around or talking excessively. Some children suffer from both concerns.

But "there often seems to be a negative impact for many parents no matter what types of symptoms the child displays," Babinski said in a medical centre news release.

And that's a problem, she added, because "parental involvement is really critical" when it comes to caring for a child with ADHD. "[So] when the parent-child relationship is strained, that is a risk factor for long-term difficulties for the child."

Why? For one, managing the behaviour of a child with ADHD can require a lot of energy, Babinski noted. It can also translate into learning and disciplinary problems at school. And parents typically end up trapped in a merry-go-round of visits to paediatricians, psychiatrists and behavioural therapists, which can often mean missing work.

Depression and other mental health concerns

All these factors can end up consuming a parent's time and drive up parental stress, she said.

But despite the stress, Babinski emphasised how critical it is that parents remain attentive to their child's needs, even as he or she ages out of adolescence into young adulthood.

So what can parents do to stay involved while keeping a lid on stress? Babinski advises parents to work in concert with teachers, so that together they can come up with an organised plan to help the child overcome whatever hurdles ADHD throws in his or her path.

She also points out that it's not uncommon for parents of children with ADHD to struggle with depression or other mental health concerns. Roughly a quarter to half of such parents have such issues, she said.

And if that's the case, parents should make sure to get the treatment they need, Babinski said.

"That can also help the child's behaviour if the parent is feeling better and has more time and energy to focus on handling the child's behaviours," she explained.

Image credit: iStock

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