Parent Training Can Improve Behavior, Social Skills for Kids with ADHD

New research finds a program that focuses on strengthening parenting skills improves symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in three to eight year-olds.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill investigators performed a rigorous review of the “Incredible Years® Basic Parent Program,” a training tool designed for parents of high-risk children and those who display behavioral problems.

The program focuses on helping parents strengthen relationships with their children. Key concepts of the training include teaching parents how to provide praise and incentives, set limits, establish ground rules, and address misbehavior.

“Prior research already has shown that this program improves behavior difficulties in young children,” said Dr. Desiree W. Murray, associate director of research at University of North Carolina’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute. “This review provides new evidence specifically about its effectiveness for ADHD symptoms.”

Murray explained that parents not only reported sustained improvements for their children’s ADHD behaviors, but also for their social skills and interactions with peers.

She said effective early intervention is crucial for young children with ADHD, due to the unfavorable short-term and long-term outcomes associated with the disorder.

“ADHD in preschoolers can bring conflict with family members, and it carries elevated risk of physical injuries and suspension or expulsion from child care settings,” Murray said.

“Negative trajectories over time can include the development of other psychiatric disorders and difficulties with social adjustment.”

Previous studies have also shown that children with ADHD struggle academically, with lower test scores and higher risk of dropping out of high school.

“We can help to prevent the wide array of negative outcomes that are associated with ADHD,” Murray said. “We believe the most effective intervention approaches may be those that target preschoolers with symptoms of ADHD but who have not yet met the full criteria for diagnosis with ADHD.”

Murray and her team, which included FPG research scientist Dr, Doré R. LaForett and UNC doctoral student Jacqueline R. Lawrence, screened 258 studies and narrowed their list to 11 studies that met stringent criteria for rigor and methodology.

The evidence — primarily parent reports — showed the effectiveness of the Incredible Years® Basic Parent Program for ADHD behaviors in young children.

Study results appear in The Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.

Murray said a key caregiver strategy that all IY programs teach — and which is particularly relevant for ADHD-related difficulties — is “coaching” young children to develop persistence, as well as academic, social, and emotional skills.

As parents and others prompt, describe, and praise targeted behaviors, children learn to regulate their own emotions and behavior, and they become motivated to use these skills.

“We think an effective 12-14 session program is a modest investment for preschool children who are at risk for ADHD,” she said. “The research shows it may promote long-term benefits that can move these children towards a more positive developmental path.”

Source: University of North Carolina