, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 233-244
Date: 02 May 2009

Family factors and children’s disruptive behaviour: an investigation of links between demographic characteristics, negative life events and symptoms of ODD and ADHD

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Abstract

Background

Oppositional defiant disorder behaviours (ODD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms (ADHD) are common disruptive childhood problems and co-occur to a large extent. In this study, prime questions were the specificity of relations between demographic factors and negative life events, respectively, and ADHD and ODD symptoms, and the role of negative life events in the relations between demographic factors and ODD and ADHD symptoms.

Methods

Concurrent relations between maternal education, family structure, ethnicity/immigrant background and symptoms of ADHD and ODD were investigated in a Swedish population sample of 1,200 10-year-old children (52% boys). Parents completed questionnaires containing information about demographic characteristics and negative life events and rated the child’s ADHD and ODD symptoms using DSM-IV criteria.

Results

Low maternal education, single/step-parenthood and non-European descent were associated with higher numbers of ODD and ADHD symptoms. Regression analyses identified ethnicity as specifically associated with ODD symptoms and single/step-parenthood as specific to ADHD symptoms, while there was no specificity with regard to negative life events. Experiences of multiple negative life events were more common in families in non-optimal circumstances. Negative life events had mainly additive effects on the level of ODD and ADHD symptoms above effects of the demographic stressors and especially conflicts between adults around the child were related to high symptom levels. The few gender effects pointed to boys as being more vulnerable than girls to non-optimal family factors expressed in relations to ODD and ADHD symptoms.

Conclusion

Even in an affluent and egalitarian society, children’s life circumstances are related to their mental health. Further, there seems to be some specificity in the demographic risk factors associated with ODD and with ADHD symptoms, while negative life events act as general stressors.