Household chaos tends to have a direct negative effect on the emotions and behaviors of parents of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study by German researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt and the universities of Bremen, Heidelberg, Tübingen, and Kiel.
While household chaos and negative emotional climates have long been linked to families with ADHD children, the researchers had assumed that the children’s behavior was more likely the driving force of these conditions.
“We assumed that the parents of children with ADHD found it difficult to maintain a structured family life and daily routines due to their children’s symptoms. In turn, household chaos has an adverse effect on emotional climate and parents’ behavior,” said Dr. Andrea Wirth, research associate at the Department of Educational Psychology of Goethe University Frankfurt.
The study involved 84 children aged seven to 13 years; 31 children were assigned to the ADHD group and 53 to the control group. Parental behavior was evaluated through a standardized questionnaire, which asked to what extent the parents looked after their children, praised or criticized them, how consistent they were in their parenting, and whether they resorted to physical punishment.
In order to assess the family’s emotional climate, the psychologists asked one of the parents to talk about his or her child for five minutes and describe the child’s personality as well their relationship. Household chaos was also recorded using a standardized test.
The findings show that the parents of children with ADHD criticized their children more often and reported more household chaos than the parents of the children in the control group. However, and to the psychologists’ surprise, the parents of children with ADHD rated their relationship to their children more positively than the parents of children without ADHD.
The researchers suggest that one reason for this might be that some of the ADHD families were already undergoing therapy.
“Household chaos seems to be some kind of mechanism through which the symptoms of children with ADHD have a negative impact on their parents’ behavior towards them,” said Wirth. “However, a chaotic environment does not appear to affect the emotional climate in the family. This contradicts earlier studies which had found a link between inadequate parenting and emotional climate.
“A highly chaotic and unstructured household, to which the children’s ADHD symptoms are a contributing factor, makes it difficult for their parents to be authoritative in their upbringing,“ she said. “At the same time, it can be assumed that the parents — despite the prevailing chaos — are fond of their children, speak positively about them, and enjoy spending time with them.”
Source: Goethe University Frankfurt