Early Parent Anxiety May Contribute to Symptoms of ADHD
A recent study suggests that children of mothers who are anxious during pregnancy and in the first few years of the child’s life are more likely to show symptoms of hyperactivity by the age of 16. While hyperactivity is only one symptom of ADHD, this study shows the association between parent anxiety and children’s behavior. While genetics play a role in shaping children’s mental health, it is possible that hyperactivity is a learned behavior in response to anxiety and unpredictability in their childhood environment.
Around 11% of the children from ‘high anxiety” mothers and 11% of children from “moderate anxiety” mothers showed symptoms of hyperactivity. Only 5% of children from “low anxiety” mothers showed hyperactivity symptoms.
Parenting Stress in Childhood
Many parents whose children struggle with ADHD experience depression and anxiety due to parenting stress. Parenting a child with ADHD can feel like an emotional rollercoaster and can involve a high level of energy and constant hypervigilance.
“All parents’ moods ebb and flow based on how their children are behaving,” describes Candice Odgers, a psychologist at the University of California, Irvine,” which can contribute to the stress of caregiving.” According to her research, children and their parents typically judge similar situations as stressful. While parent anxiety may trigger hyperactivity in children, later in life, the behaviors are reinforced by each other. The child’s behaviors that were most likely to cause parent distress included hyperactivity, lack of concentration, anger, and disobedience.
Anxiety and ADHD
As with disruptive behavior disorders, there is a great deal of overlap between anxiety disorders and ADHD. About one-fourth of children with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder. Younger children with overanxious disorder or separation anxiety are especially likely to also have ADHD.
An anxious child may be experiencing guilt or fear, but may not be noticed by the adults in their life. It is when those symptoms are expressed through behaviors such as sleeplessness or school refusal that they will begin to receive the attention they need. It is important to ask your child’s pediatrician or psychologist to talk with your child directly if you suspect the presence of ADHD in addition to her persistent anxiety.
Family Healing in Adolescence
Symptoms of ADHD often escalate family conflict in adolescence. Teens who struggle with impulsivity and hyperactivity are more likely to turn to risky or defiant behaviors. Parents who worry for their child’s safety and success may be well-intentioned, but teens may be more likely to act out in response. From both sides, situations may feel out of their control.
Family therapy focuses on healing damaged relationships by creating new habits and patterns in the family dynamic. As symptoms of ADHD can affect the entire family, support is available for the entire family through family sessions, assignments, and family workshops with other families.
Equinox RTC Can Help
We strive to support the creation of self-sustaining, lifelong change at Equinox through our remarkable people and programming. When change is generated through a relationship-based and principle-centered focus, in which a teenager has the choice to comply, lifelong, sustainable change is achievable.
One of the strengths of our residential treatment center is our experiential approach which uses the residential environment to observe and help change come about in practical, everyday experiences. Milieu therapy provides “in-the-moment” intervention that is nearly impossible to replicate in traditional therapy sessions. For more information please call (877) 279-8925.
Kyle received his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas Tech University. As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Kyle has worked in a variety of clinical settings over the last seventeen years. His career has focused on treating both boys and girls, with specialization in trauma, processing difficulties, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, OCD and difficult family systems.