If you’re a parent whose child recently received an ADHD diagnosis, or if you’re considering having your child evaluated for ADHD, there are programs out there that can help your child learn to manage their symptoms—and improve your parenting skills, too.
Though it can be hard to parse out the symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—being easily distracted, impulsive and very active—from normal child behavior, many kids are diagnosed before the age of 6, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And one of the best treatments, the CDC says, is called “parent training in behavior therapy,” in which therapists teach parents skills to help their child manage ADHD symptoms.
The Incredible Years Basic Parent Program is a pre-existing program meant to help parents strengthen their skills and is well-supported by previous research, according to the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare.
Prior studies have shown that following the Incredible Years program can improve children’s behavior. A recent University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study suggests it can also help diminish ADHD symptoms in 3- to 8-year-olds.
The Incredible Years Basic Parent Program was created to coach parents of children with behavioral challenges, aiming to strengthen the relationship between parent and child. It guides parents on providing praise and incentives, setting limits, establishing rules and addressing inappropriate behavior.
Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute looked at 258 studies of the program, eventually narrowing that list to the 11 best studies. They examined the reports of parents involved in those studies.
Across the studies, parents said their children’s ADHD behaviors improved, as did their social skills and peer interactions, as the parents followed the program, FPG associate director of research Desiree W. Murray said in an interview with the school. Murray headed up the UNC Chapel Hill study.
A strength of Incredible Years programs, she said, is their focus on “coaching” children to develop their own strategies for managing ADHD behaviors. As parents follow the program, children learn to take control of their own behavior through persistence and resiliency.
According to the CDC, about 11 percent of 4- to 17-year-olds have been diagnosed with ADHD. A growing number of kids ages 2 to 5 are being diagnosed, too. Between the CDC’s 2007-08 and 2011-12 surveys, diagnoses in young children rose 50 percent.
The fact that Incredible Years helps young children get a handle on their ADHD behaviors is key—early intervention is paramount, Murray said. Preschool-age children with ADHD are more likely to injure themselves or be suspended or expelled from child care. Acting out can also cause tension between parent and child and parent and parent.
Not getting out ahead of ADHD can lead to mental health and social adjustment difficulties down the road, she said. Studies have shown that students with ADHD tend to struggle in school, have lower test scores and are at a higher risk of dropping out.
Targeting preschoolers with helpful interventions can end this cycle, 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,” she said.