Young child with ADHD? Online parent training classes could help, study shows

There’s a new study out on behavioral parent training (BPT). This kind of training is for parents who want to learn how to use behavior strategies for young kids with ADHD. BPT is a form of behavioral therapy that’s taught by professionals, typically in a group setting or one-on-one.

Most experts agree that BPT is an effective treatment for ADHD because it can reduce some symptoms. However, many parents don’t have access to in-person BPT classes. The training might not be offered in certain locations or could be costly.

The small study found that BPT can be useful as an online class. This option gives parents a less expensive and more convenient way to get ADHD treatment for their young children.

The study appeared in The Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology and was funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

In the study, researchers worked with 47 families who had preschool-age kids with ADHD symptoms. The families were divided into three groups:

  • One group of 16 families attended 10 weekly face-to-face BPT sessions.

  • Another group of 15 families completed 10 weekly online BPT sessions.

  • A third control group of 16 families had no parent training at all.

The face-to-face and online BPT classes had roughly the same content. Both started with an introduction to ADHD. The sessions then covered specific strategies, as well as information about how to work with young kids.

Understood experts Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH, and Stephanie Sarkis, PhD, reviewed the study. Here are their takeaways.

Key findings

The researchers for this study surveyed parents before BPT started and after the last session. They also visited homes to observe the kids. They found that, compared to parents who had no training, parents with BPT had:

  • Increased levels of knowledge about ADHD

  • Reduced parenting stress about ADHD

  • Higher likelihood to use behavioral ADHD interventions

These positive results were the same whether parents took BPT online or in face-to-face classes. Parents of kids who received BPT also reported that the behavior of their kids improved. They were less impulsive and restless.

However, these changes may not be “statistically significant,” say the researchers.

Key takeaways for parents

This was a well-done study supported by data, according to Harstad and Sarkis. However, it was a pilot study. And the number of families involved was small. It’s also worth noting that there are still benefits to face-to-face contact that an online class can’t provide.

“To confirm the findings about online BPT,” Harstad says, “we need larger studies in more diverse settings.” Further studies should also look at how long the benefits of BPT last for families, she adds.

But the study still seems promising.

Behavioral therapy like BPT should be part of the treatment plan for preschool-age children with ADHD, says Harstad. This is also recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Traditionally, BPT is done through in-person meetings,” says Harstad. “But it’s often challenging to find providers and schedule time.” Sometimes, BPT isn’t covered by insurance, either. Online BPT may help resolve these dilemmas.

Although it’s too soon to prove how effective online BPT is over the long term, there’s good reason to think it can help. At the very least, it won’t hurt parents to learn more about ADHD online from reputable sources.

In other words, if you can’t attend BPT in person, reading up on ADHD symptoms and behavior strategies online might still help your child.

Find out how early ADHD can be diagnosed. Explore strategies you can try at home to help your child with ADHD.


Read next