Is bad parenting the cause of ADHD among children?

Kristy discovers 32 percent of parents think so just as she's going through her daughter's diagnosis.

By Kristy Woudstra
Is bad parenting the cause of ADHD among children?

Image by Maxian/iStock

Rory is two, playing in the park across the street from our old house. She goes from one thing to the next, keenly wanting to do everything "herself."

"Wow, she must be a good sleeper," a dad says to me. I look up. He's watching his three children, a son who is about three and one-year-old twins. "Um, yeah. She sleeps really well," I respond cautiously. "She is busy!" he exclaims. "I'm tired just watching her."

That was almost five years ago and I'll never forget thinking, "If a man with three children under the age of three thinks my kid is busy, that says something."

At the time, I didn't put Rory's activity level or her lack of attention span down to Attention deficit hyperactivy disorder (ADHD). In daycare, her teachers and I would laugh at how she couldn't sit through circle time. She'd either just walk away after a couple of minutes or turn her back to the group and quietly sing to herself. I just thought it was what kids do a that age. As a single parent of an only child, I didn't really have anyone to directly compare her to on a day-to-day basis.

Then my fiancé's son was diagnosed with ADHD last year. We started talking about his symptoms and we both looked at each other as though to say "That sounds like Rory!"

So I decided to check into it. I recently took Rory to our family doctor. She handed us a form with a list of ADHD markers. Rory has every single one of them. Now we're waiting to see a paediatrician for official word. 

Sure, I realize that many parents think children are being over-diagnosed, and I'm sure some are. A recent study (an ironic kick-off to Children's Mental Health Week), shows that: "32 percent of parents dismiss ADHD as the result of 'insufficient' or 'absent parenting'.... And 13 percent thought ADHD 'should not be treated as a medical condition, but rather as a behavioural issue that can be corrected with discipline'.”

In response, Dr. Harold Koplewicz, a leading child psychiatrist said in the Huffington Post, "we need a national conversation about children's mental health, to force out into the open the parent-bashing and misinformation that is being promulgated. We need all our kids to have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, and to get there we need you to help spread the word about early and effective intervention."

I couldn't agree more. If not for my fiancé and our open conversation, I may not have taken Rory to the doctor for years. For me, it is a relief to know that something is going on other than her having an attitude problem or that I'm a crappy parent. (And, yes, I fully realize that ADHD isn't the root cause of everything nor will treatment solve everything!)  

If she does have ADHD, I'll likely face more stigma than she will. (At least I hope so.) But I could care less. I want her to thrive in school and in life. She's a smart kid, but she's struggling with paying attention and she never finishes her work. Discipline doesn't seem to help, so I need help to help her. I'm not going to let stigma get in the way of her health and happiness.

What do you think: Is ADHD caused by bad parenting?


This article was originally published on May 13, 2012

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