Having a child with ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can be challenging for parents. As such we wanted to look at the parenting strategies used by mothers of such children. Do the frustrations of parenting relate to less effective parenting strategies? Because of the genetic nature of the disorder, we also wanted to see whether ADHD symptoms were more common in mothers of children with ADHD than in mothers whose children did not have ADHD. Lastly, because paid helpers care for a significant proportion of children in Singapore (about 22% of households employ at least one foreign domestic worker), we wanted to investigate the effect of having domestic foreign workers as caregivers.
To investigate these questions relating to having a child with ADHD, we compared a group of mothers of children with ADHD (46 mothers) with another group of mothers whose children had not been diagnosed with ADHD (45 mothers). We gave all of the mothers some standardised psychological measures including a measure of the severity of a child’s behaviour, a parenting questionnaire, and a measure of ADHD symptoms in the mothers. We also obtained a measure of the children’s academic performance and assessed the mother’s satisfaction with their caregiving arrangements.
Mothers of children with ADHD did not report higher levels of their own ADHD symptoms compared with the comparison mothers. This was a surprise because the literature reports an association between ADHD symptoms in mothers and children. However, mothers of children with ADHD did use less adaptive parenting strategies (they used more negative parenting behaviours and fewer positive parenting behaviours as described by the parenting scale used). There were also no differences in the reported behaviours of children cared for by a paid worker and those cared for by mothers. Since the merits and disadvantages of using paid help in the Singaporean home are often debated, this finding is of particular interest. The model of using paid help in the home, which is commonplace in Singapore, does not seem to disadvantage children with ADHD. The literature shows that children with ADHD tend to perform less well in school and we also found that in our study.
The core ADHD deficits of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity mean that managing a child with ADHD is a challenging prospect for many parents. The general aim of our research was to better understand parenting of children with ADHD in Singapore and provide recommendations for interventions. The disadvantages associated with ADHD, together with the finding that mothers of children with ADHD demonstrated inferior parenting skills, show the need for the provision of parenting programmes for this group in particular. The good news is that such parenting programs have a strong empirical evidence base and the best programs have been shown to be effective. The finding that mothers of these children do not themselves have higher than normal ADHD symptoms means that the focus of parent training need not particularly emphasise self-management of ADHD symptoms.
Russell Hawkins is the Professor of Psychology at James Cook University. He served at JCU Singapore as Director of the clinical psychology programs there. His Singapore experience included 4 years as Course Coordinator for the Master of Arts (Applied Psychology) program at the National Institute of Education (NIE) and Chair of the Singapore Register of Psychologists.
Alefiya Nomanbhoy is Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. She is Director of Postgraduate Taught Programmes and teaches on the MA Special Needs. She is also a Registered Psychologist with the Singapore Psychological Society. Her research areas are in inclusive education, teacher training, ADHD, dyslexia, Asperger disorder and behavior management.
Russell Hawkins and Alefiya Nomanbhoy
First Published June 13, 2017