The impact on siblings of children with ADHD is not often talked about, yet it is an important discussion to have in order to create healthy and functioning families. Studies show that siblings of children with ADHD experience the same disruption, chaos, unpredictability and exhaustion as their parents. At times, they may even feel victimized, unprotected and powerless, particularly when faced with expectations to “take care” of their siblings. A healthy family considers everyone’s needs.
Here are some tips for parents who have children that have been diagnosed with ADHD to minimize the effects on their children without ADHD:
- Watch for unfair treatment or victimization between your children…it is not the same as rivalry. Victimization involves a loss of power and control for children and creates a dynamic where safety and self-worth is compromised. This victimization can come from either child towards the other. Criticizing, ridicule, teasing or insulting from one sibling to another cannot be tolerated.
- Minimize your expectations of another child taking care of their ADHD sibling; you are the parent, not them. Don’t put pressure on your child to supervise your ADHD child or to be responsible for them. Looking out for one another in a family is encouraged, but children, cannot and should not be expected to be their brother’s keeper.
- When the behavior of your ADHD child interrupts activities and interests of your other children, do your best to return to the activity with the other children when possible. They need your attention too. Or if you know that your son or daughter cannot tolerate watching from the sidelines and might be disruptive, try hiring a babysitter or bring along interesting distracting activities, toys or games for your ADHD child so you can focus your attention on your other child’s activities.
- Listen and take action when one of your other children report aggression or hurtful behavior from their ADHD sibling. Don’t take the stance that ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘they will grow out of it’. ADHD is not an excuse for unkind behavior. While it is normal for siblings to argue and have disagreements, be on the lookout for physical aggression and verbal assaults that can result from the impulsivity associated with ADHD. Such behavior creates an unsafe situation for your children, and can lead to retaliation and acting out in your other child.
- Make the time and effort to spend time and appreciate your other children. Try and schedule special one-on-one time with them that doesn’t involve talking about ADHD. Focus on what your child loves to do and who they are. It is easy to focus all your attention on meeting the needs of your child with ADHD, so remember to spread out your quality time so siblings are not feeling left out.
Siblings have an important role to play for the ADHD child, and as the parent, it’s important that you work with them to learn and grow together and develop a healthy relationship for later in life.
These tips and other strategies for minimizing the negative effects of and enhancing the gifts of ADHD can be found in Laurie Dupar’s book, 365 Ways to Succeed with ADHD.