Best Parenting Strategies for Kids with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

A new study by researchers at the University of Rochester sheds light on how parents and caregivers of children with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) can best help their kids achieve to the best of their abilities, and at the same time, maintain peace at home and at school.

Children with FASD often have problems with executive functioning, including deficiencies in impulse control and task planning, information processing, emotion regulation, and social and adaptive skills. Young people with FASD are at high risk for school disruptions and getting into trouble with the law.

The study involved 31 parents and caregivers of children with FASD ages four through eight. The research team looked at data taken from standardized questionnaires and qualitative interviews that focused on parenting practices.

The findings reveal that parents of children with FASD who attribute their child’s misbehavior to their underlying disabilities — rather than to wilful disobedience — are more likely to use pre-emptive strategies designed to help prevent undesirable behaviors.

Given the brain damage associated with FASD, pre-emptive strategies are typically more effective than incentive-based strategies, such as the use of consequences or punishment for misbehavior.   The study shows that educating families and caregivers about the disorder is critical.

“Children with FASD often have significant behavior problems due to neurological damage,” said Dr. Christie Petrenko, a research psychologist at the University’s Mt. Hope Family Center.   She adds that parents who use pre-emptive strategies “change the environment in a way that fits their child’s needs better. They give one-step instructions rather than three-steps because their child has working memory issues.”

“They may buy clothes with soft seams if their child has sensory issues, or post stop signs to cue the child to not open the door. All of these preventive strategies help reduce the demands of the environment on the child,” said Petrenko.

The findings also reveal that parenting practices correlate with levels of caregiver confidence and frustration.   Families of children with FASD are frequently judged and blamed for their children’s misbehavior. However, parents who are successful in preventing unwanted behaviors have greater confidence in their parenting skills and lower levels of frustration with their children than parents who respond to unwanted behaviors with consequences after the fact.

Petrenko and her team at Mt. Hope Family Center are continuing to test new parenting strategies and interventions in order to identify which practices are most effective.


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