How low-income parents can reduce their children’s risk of developing problem behavior.

Joy Adekanmi
About the Author

Joy Adekanmi is a medical student at the University of Groningen. She is doing her Master's Scientific Internship on the association between fish consumption and ADHD in children.

ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is characterized by attention problems and hyperactive and impulsive behaviors. It is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in childhood, especially among boys. (1,2)

Heritability (genetics) is known to be a main factor in the development of ADHD. However, other risk factors such as gender, diet and socioeconomic status (SES) can strongly influence the development and the course of ADHD in children (you can read more about why ADHD runs in families here).

Treatment and management of ADHD include the identification of modifiable risk factors. Some of these risk factors are linked to the consequences of growing up in a family with low income. How can low-income parents help reduce and manage the manifestations of problematic behavior in children with ADHD?

The characteristics of a low parental SES include low income, manual labor, low education level and not owning a family home. Often (but of course not always), low SES comes together with maternal smoking during pregnancy, social adversity (e.g. unemployment or mental illness of a parent), and nonauthoritative parenting style. (2,3)

As low-income parents, identifying and acknowledging the risks associated with low SES, and getting adequate support in this, might be of help in ADHD management. The development and course of ADHD is influenced by many different factors, and strategically managing some of the risk factors can have a beneficial effect for both you and your child. Therefore, the best approach is to observe which factors are feasible for you to manage. For instance, owning a family home might not be possible. However, adjusting your parenting style and trying to create a stable (non-conflict) home environment for your children can also be helpful. More information about parenting tips for ADHD can be found here and here, or you might consider following a parent training program.

Your lifestyle as a parent also influences your children’s behavior. It is recommended for parents not to smoke, not to abuse alcohol nor drugs, and most importantly these habits should be avoided during pregnancy.(4)

Another way to help manage ADHD symptoms is through diet. In the treatment of ADHD, some studies have proven the beneficial effects of a balanced diet, especially one rich in Omega-3. You can read more about this on our website (for instance, this tipsheet on nutritional diversity).  When income is low, it can very difficult to provide for a balanced, varied, and healthy diet for your children (and yourself). However, this does increase the risk of ADHD and other behavioral problems. Making use of social services may help to provide a healthy balanced diet for your children (4,5). You can also ask your home doctor or a dietician for advice.

Ultimately, educating oneself on ADHD and identifying which risk factors are relevant to your situation, can help curb behavioral problems and improve the ADHD outcome in children. Good sources to learn more about ADHD and get help for your personal situation are your family doctor, websites of patient organizations such as ADHD Europe, or governmental websites from your country.


  1.  Woo H, Kim D, Hong Y. Dietary Patterns in Children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Nutrients. 2014;6(4):1539-1553.The Association Between Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): A Systematic Review DOI 10.1007/s10578-015-0578-3
  2. Rajaleid K, Nummi T, Westerlund H. Social adversities in adolescence predict unfavourable trajectories of internalized mental health symptoms until middle age: results from the Northern Swedish Cohort. The European Journal of Public Health. 2015;26(1):23-29.
  3. Ellis B, Nigg J. Parenting Practices and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: New Findings Suggest Partial Specificity of Effects. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. 2009;48(2):146-154.
  4. Reynolds J. What’s the Link Between a Low-Income Status and a Kid’s Chance of Developing ADHD? [Internet]. US NEWS. 2017 [cited 14 October 2020]. Available from:
  5.  Sorgi P, Hallowell E, Hutchins H. Effects of an open-label pilot study with high-dose EPA/DHA concentrates on plasma phospholipids and behavior in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Nutrition Journal. 2007;6(1).