University of Otago psychology researcher Dr Dione Healey plays a game with Caydence Lane (3), the well-behaved daughter of a fellow psychology department staff member. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
Parents of out-of-control preschoolers could be in for some
relief if a behavioural programme developed by a University
of Otago researcher proves successful.
Psychology researcher Dr Dione Healey has been developing a
programme for hyperactive preschoolers since 2008 and is now
running a trial involving 3 and 4-year-olds with poor
Dr Healey's research was partly as a response to findings
from the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, which found poor
self-control at age 3 was associated with negative outcomes
in adulthood, including poorer physical and mental health and
It was hoped the new programme, apart from making life easier
for exhausted parents, could help change that trajectory and
improve a child's chances later in life.
The trial would test Otago University's cognitive development
programme against the ''gold standard'' established
What made the Otago programme different from other programmes
or treatment with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
(ADHD) drugs was that it was focused on long-term improvement
through teaching children skills to control their own
''Behaviour modification has been around for 50 years and we
know it works and it's really good, but the main limitation
with it ... is that it doesn't seem to work long term.''
''Typically, what you find is that as soon as you stop doing
it, all their problem behaviours come back, so they are not
actually learning the skill themselves.''
Part of the focus was also about making life easier for weary
parents, of whom Dr Healey had seen many in the course of her
''They are often struggling with a difficult child and all
the feedback they get from others and they feel not well
supported and like they are a failure as a parent.''
Whereas friends and family might say a child ''just needs
some discipline'' or parents were being ''too soft'',
research showed ADHD was not caused by bad parenting and was
instead an internal lack of self-control.
Dr Healey is still looking for more parents of 3 and
4-year-olds with poor self-control to take part in her study
and those interested can get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Caydence Lane is not part of the study.