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Categories: 2012, October
by Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG,
PARENT OF A CHILD WHO HAS ADHD, you are well aware of the
tremendous amount of energy it takes to meet his or her needs. Most of
your day seems to be consumed with meeting those needs, with constant
redirecting and endless reminders. But what about the needs of your
child who doesn’t have ADHD? Doesn’t he or she
deserve attention, too?
In dealing with the chaos and tension of the home environment, parents
who themselves are overwhelmed often forget, or don’t have time
for, the struggling child who doesn’t have ADHD. Perhaps that
child has a lot of coping to do, too; after all, he or she is living in
the same home. Before parents can effectively offer their help, however,
they need to understand some of the issues that may be plaguing their
child who doesn’t have ADHD. Then they can confront those issues
and give that child the help and support he or she needs.
Living with a brother or sister who has ADHD can be quite challenging.
As one sibling of a youngster with ADHD told me recently, "My brother is
a class-A brat! He gets all the attention around our house. Even when I
speak up about something that’s on my mind, he’s always
there to butt in and interrupt me. My parents don’t seem to
understand, and besides, they’re always too busy chasing him
around the place."
Unfortunately, we often miss the fact that our other child may be in
fact feeling angry inside. That anger could be directed toward you or
toward the sibling with ADHD. The child who doesn’t have ADHD may
hold the anger inside for a long time, feeling hopeless that the
situation will ever change. It just isn’t fun to watch constant
chaos around the house, seeing one’s parents being exhausted and
distracted, overwhelmed by the constant needs of their child with
If you find your "neurotypical" child often being irritable, there could
be anger beneath the surface that is triggering it. Sometimes this
irritability may mask underlying depression or repressed feelings of
sadness. This same child can also feel a lot of anxiety from stress and
chaos in the home. There also could be feelings of guilt in the form of
shame or discomfort over the negative feelings directed toward the
sibling or parents. Resentment can set in: "Why don’t my parents
spend equal time with me?" This resentment often surfaces because of a
difference in discipline toward the child with ADHD. He or she seems to
get away with more while the sibling who doesn’t have ADHD is
expected to be "perfect." Because that child perceives an imbalance of
attention, everything seems "unfair" and "unequal." Confusion over his
or her role in the family can itself be overwhelming: "How do I deal
with the chaos around our house? Should I just appear to be the happy
peacemaker or should I strike back? Is there really anything that I
could possibly do to change the situation?"
The child who doesn’t have ADHD can feel a lot of embarrassment
about his or her sibling’s behaviors. It is possible that the
behaviors of the child with ADHD are such that the sibling without ADHD
would not want to invite friends over to the house.
Often parents won’t take a child who has ADHD out into certain
public places for fear that the child’s behaviors will be
problematic. For this reason, the sibling who doesn’t have ADHD
also misses out on going to certain places and doing family things that
would otherwise be fun.
Another way that the sibling who doesn’t have ADHD may react is by
trying to get more attention, even if it is negative attention. After
all, he or she learns that inappropriate behavior gets more attention!
Some kids will even regress to a more childlike state, thinking that
that will get more attention from parents. Neglecting schoolwork or
other responsibilities may be another way that the sibling gets the
"attention" of the parents.
You may not recognize these patterns in your child who doesn’t
have ADHD. When you do, it is important to take steps to make your
relationship with that child better, and at the same time, boost your
child’s self-esteem. The following steps will encourage your
success in building loving family relationships for a lifetime.
1. Give your child unconditional love. Regardless of
the way he or she has handled the situation at home, your child will
feel valued and accepted if you love him or her unconditionally.
2. Be sure to acknowledge and validate your child’s
feelings. Be a good listener, even if the things that he or she
is saying are difficult to hear. You may not have been aware that your
child who doesn’t have ADHD has felt like he or she is
"second-rate," and this may trigger guilt feelings inside you. Try to
put yourself aside and empathize with your child. It is important to see
things from his or her perspective.
3. Embrace your family. Those relationships are so
important. In spite of the needs of your child who has ADHD, plan a
special time each week with just the sibling who doesn’t have ADHD
4. Praise your child without ADHD often, celebrating
his or her special gifts and talents. Reward him or her for good
5. Find a good coach to help you through the chaos and
6. Learn as much about ADHD as you can. Join support
groups such as those sponsored by CHADD. Explain the facts about ADHD to
your child who doesn’t have the disorder in terms that he or she
7. Model good communication and problem-solving skills
for all your children.
8. Address fairness in discipline and consequences.
Address also the fact that one sibling may need more attention at
9. Make your home as comfortable for everyone as
possible. Plan ahead for family get-togethers or when friends
visit. The best way is to anticipate problems ahead of time.
10. Parents, by all means, take care of your needs,
too! Get enough sleep and exercise regularly.
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