Training for Parents Can Help Children with ADHD

Health Writer

The traditional approach to treatment for ADHD is a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently issued a statement indicating that training parents on behavioral therapy can delay, reduce, or eliminate the need for medications, especially in young children.

In the United States, about six million children are diagnosed with ADHD. One-third of those children are shown to be diagnosed before the age of 6. Those who are diagnosed at a young age are at greater risk of severe symptoms and experts agree they may benefit from early treatment. However, adiitonally, American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents undergo training in behavior therapy before trying medication. In fact, according to Vital Signs, an online newsletter from the CDC, around three-fourths of young children with ADHD are prescribed medication, but only one-half receive any form of therapy.

What is involved in parent training?

One of the long-held myths about ADHD is that it is caused by poor parenting skills. It is not. ADHD is a neurobiological condition. While parenting skills do not contribute to ADHD, the CDC points out that "parents can play a key role in the treatment of ADHD.” During training sessions, parents learn strategies to:

  • Encourage positive behavior by using positive reinforcement
  • Discourage negative behavior
  • Improve communication
  • Provide structure and discipline
  • Strengthen their relationship with their child

The training is meant to improve the child's behavior, self-control, and self-esteem through positive and encouraging support from the parents. This approach has been shown to be as effective as medication. Unlike medication, however, the results of the training can be long-lasting. Medication alone is only effective when and for how long the child takes it.

Why don't parents take advantage of parent training?

Despite the fact that parent training programs have been around for years, they don't get much exposure in the press or in the doctors' offices, and because there simply aren't that many parent programs around, it can often be hard to find one in your area.

Another issue is that  parent training programs cost both time and money. And because these types of programs are considered "educational," many insurance companies won't pay for parent's attendance. That leaves the financial burden on the parents. Attending these programs can also require parents to rearrange their schedules and set aside one evening a week for several months. For working families, this isn't always possible even when the program is affordable.

Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC, is looking to expand access to parent training programs. Although psychologists generally run this type of training, she believes social workers would be able to do so, as well. She also believes group training programs are a viable option, which would greatly reduce the cost. In addition, the CDC is looking into creating web-based programs that could bring parent training programs to millions of parents.

The recommendation from the CDC builds on a report issued in February 2016 by the Florida International University. Their research found that children with ADHD between the ages of 5 and 12 years old had much better results when the first treatment was behavioral therapy. Behavior therapy and parent training don't necessarily eliminate the need for ADHD medications, but it is possible children could need lower doses of those medications.

See more helpful articles on parenting children with ADHD:

ADHD in Preschool

ADHD in Early Elementary Age Children

Children with ADD/ADHD - When to See a Doctor

Strategies for Parenting Children with ADHD