Fall 2018

Nurturing Parent-Child Relationships

UA researchers validate novel parenting approach to behavioral challenges

Two years ago, University of Arizona alumni David and Diana Freshwater attended a class that taught a different approach to working with challenging behavior from children, including symptoms that accompany behavioral diagnoses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. 

“The whole approach is about celebrating who children are and the enthusiasm they bring to the table,” David Freshwater says. “It avoids making a child conform to a set of expectations, which causes undue frustration for everyone involved.” 

The class used methods found in the Nurtured Heart Approach. Its basic premise is that the same intensity that can go awry in some children, resulting in a diagnosis and often use of medication, may actually be the fuel of a child’s greatness.

One of the foundational elements of the approach is to avoid energizing undesired behavior while holding the child accountable. For example, parents tend to point out hyperactivity to their children. The Nurtured Heart Approach does not ignore the negative, but it also is not emphasized or called out. Instead, parents focus on what is going right in the moments following charged interactions. 

The Freshwaters were sold on the approach. When they learned about a study the UA’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health was planning, they wanted to support it. 

“Proving that this approach works, but more importantly showing it has the potential to reduce or limit medication for children, is something I think all parents can get behind,” David Freshwater says. 

Other donors joined the effort to fund the project, which launched in 2017. Assistant professor Velia Nuño led the study and invited participation by parents and guardians of children aged 6 to 8 who had, or were suspected to have, ADHD. 

Nuño, also the director of the college’s Family and Child Health degree program, says they saw decreases in inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, the three ADHD symptoms targeted in the study. 

“In my conversations with more than 100 parents and guardians, parents felt empowered to manage their child’s behavior and bring out their child’s best qualities,” 
she says. 

Therapist and author Howard Glasser, the creator of the Nurtured Heart Approach and founder of the Tucson-based Children’s Success Foundation, could not be happier with the results. 

“What the research team has done to come to an empirical justification and evidence of the approach is incredible,” Glasser says. “It’s gratifying to think that the research can help accelerate word of mouth for the Nurtured Heart Approach, which will hopefully help more families bring out the greatness in their child.”