Raising children is not easy. I should know. As a clinical psychologist, I’ve helped parents learn the skills they need to be better parents. And my experience raising three children confirmed my clinical experience. Parenting is a tough job under the best of circumstances but it is even harder if the parent has ADHD. For example, an effective parent establishes rules and enforces them systematically. This requires attention to detail, self-control and good organizational skills. Given these requirements, it is easy to see how ADHD symptoms interfere with parenting. These observations have led some of my colleagues to test the theory that treating ADHD adults with medication would improve their parenting skills. I know about two studies that tested this idea. In 2008, Dr. Chronis-Toscano and colleagues published a study using a sustained release form of methylphenidate for mothers with ADHD. As expected, the medication decreased their symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. The medication also reduced the mothers use of inconsistent discipline and corporal punishment and improved their monitoring and supervision of their children. In a 2014 study, Waxmonsky and colleagues observed ADHD adults and their children in a laboratory setting once when the adults were off medication and once when they were on medication. They used the same sustained release form of amphetamine for all the patients. As expected, the medications reduced ADHD symptoms in the parents. This laboratory study is especially informative because the researchers made objective ratings of parent-child interactions rather than relying on the parent’s report of those interactions. Twenty parents completed the study. The medication led to less negative talk and commands and more praise by parents. It also reduced negative and inappropriate behaviors in their children. Both studies suggest that treating ADHD adults with medication will improve their parenting skills. That is good news. But they also found that not all parenting behaviors improved. That makes sense. Parenting is a skill that must be learned. Because ADHD interferes with learning, parents with the disorder need time to learn these skills. Medication can eliminate some of the worst behaviors but doctors should also provide the adjunct behavioral or cognitive behavioral therapies that could help ADHD parents learn parenting skills and achieve their full potential as parents.
Chronis-Tuscano, A., K. E. Seymour, et al. (2008). “Efficacy of osmotic-release oral system (OROS) methylphenidate for mothers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): preliminary report of effects on ADHD symptoms and parenting.” J Clin Psychiatry 69(12): 1938-1947.
Waxmonsky, J. G., D. A. Waschbusch, et al. (2014). “Does pharmacological treatment of ADHD in adults enhance parenting performance? Results of a double-blind randomized trial.” CNS Drugs 28(7): 665-677.