Does Situation Type Moderate the Relationship Between Maternal Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Symptoms and Observed Parenting?

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The University of Maryland McNair Scholars Undergraduate Research Journal, Vol. 3, 2011: 205-216.



Previous research has found associations between parental attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and maladaptive parenting. In contrast, some suggest a “similarity-fit hypothesis,” in which equal levels of ADHD symptoms between parents and children may be associated with a shared behavioral tempo, which may result in a better “fit.” However, this theory has only been tested in a free-play situation (Psychogiou et al., 2008a). This study tested the “similarity-fit hypothesis” using two samples of children with ADHD and their mothers across two tasks to examine the extent situational context is associated with ineffective parenting. Mother-child dyads were observed in an unstructured free-play task and a structured homework task in two studies of parent-child interactions consisting of a total of 175 elementary-aged children with DSM-IV ADHD. A significant main effect for situation type on positive parenting and ineffective commands was found in Study 2. Mothers displayed higher rates of positive parenting and ineffective commands in the homework task compared to the free-play task. A trend-level interaction (Situation Type x Maternal ADHD symptoms) was found in Study 1. Probing the interaction revealed that higher levels of maternal ADHD symptoms predicted higher levels of ineffective commands in the homework task, but not in the free-play task. Although, our results were both consistent and inconsistent with the literature examining families where ADHD is present in children and parents, our study’s findings may contribute to the limited literature using observational measures to examine associations between maternal ADHD symptoms and parenting. Our results suggest the challenging nature of the structured homework task may tax a mother’s core symptoms of ADHD, which contrasts with the “similarity-fit hypothesis.” Further research testing the “similarity-fit hypothesis” is needed to determine the extent situational context impacts the relationship between maternal ADHD symptoms and parenting.