Have you ever felt that the brothers and sisters – siblings – of your child with ADHD get a raw deal? They have to live with the whirlwind, the rule breaking, the lateness, the chaos, the drama and the uncertainty of things changing very quickly. Are you worried this may all have an impact on their own feelings of self-worth and mental well-being?
Let me tell you my story. We were really focussed on our son who was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 8 years old. It was the early 1990s and very few people were talking about ADHD. I’m afraid to say we did a lot wrong and made many mistakes. We didn’t really understand that he couldn’t help his behaviour. We dished out punishments thinking it may change things. But this just resulted in heightened conflict. At times, we felt like we were living in a battleground.
Meanwhile his neurotypical younger sister was trying her best to keep herself amused with stuff like colouring and making things. Looking back, she must have missed out on so much. Plans changed, holidays and outings ruined, tension in the home, being late for school. She sat quietly watching and observing. There was the time he bit her finger and in a rage I tore up his Britney Spears tickets. I know! Totally the wrong thing to do – I reacted badly. Life was far from calm.
His sister grew up with a sense that we treated him differently and life was not fair. She became cross and angry. As she entered her teens she went from a quiet little angel to a wild kitten, giving us her share of grief for quite a few years…
I tell you this because I wish I could fly back in time and do things very differently. I wish I had someone who could help me through the difficult times. But there was no internet, no Facebook groups. No support networks of like-minded families going through similar things. I wish there were people who could have told me, hang on, it’ll be okay.
Today we know so much more about ADHD. We know how to help and support our children with kindness.
ADHD IS REAL
Your child with ADHD may be having a hard time. Their incredible brain means they are impulsive, may need to be on the move constantly, will get bored easily and will seek out risky, challenging opportunities. This is how their brain is wired. There is a chemical imbalance in the brain. ADHD is a neurological condition. ADHD is real.
However, living with a child with ADHD can be quite tricky if you’re looking for peace and calm. Sprinkle into the family dynamics, siblings who also want to be heard, Or they may want a bit of quiet to watch Netflix or do some homework, then this could be a recipe for a family in conflict.
You may not think it, but there are positives to being a sibling of a child with ADHD.
I am delighted to say my daughter has grown into a self-assured, confident woman. She possesses a number of qualities that I think are attributable to her having a brother with ADHD.
Siblings have to be incredibly patient and adaptable. They may have developed a strong resilience and are able to bounce back from problems. Your child may show tolerance and understanding of people who are different and don’t fit the norm. They may be naturally compassionate and helpful and empathetic to other people’s needs.
These are gorgeous qualities that should be noticed and celebrated.
Conversely, being a sibling of a child with ADHD can be tough.
They may be jealous or angry with all the attention their sibling constantly gets from you. They may feel a huge responsibility to behave or be perfect. They may feel embarrassed in public and wish they belonged to a less complicated family. There may even be a sense of dread that something awful is going to happen. There may be a sense of sorrow or loss. Bedtimes are far from calm, family meals are fraught. There could be a sense of injustice. Your child with ADHD may be aggressive, so how does a sibling fight back? They may not have the communication skills to calm things and so there ends up physical violence. This situation is hard for everyone and could escalate quickly out of control.
HOW TO HELP
TALK ABOUT ADHD
Make ADHD part of the family discussion. Make it so it’s not a big deal. When your child with ADHD does something positive, like come up with a great idea or be hypervigilant and find the missing earring on the floor, say “That’s your amazing ADHD brain!”.
Be honest about the difficulties and work as a family to come up with solutions. Have books explaining ADHD readily available for all to browse. Decide together how you can get to school on time or make a birthday more enjoyable.
When she is being really annoying and interfering with a game, come up with some alternatives. Do you need to go outside, calm down, play a different game, stretch some yoga bands? Instead of the siblings moaning, arguing and fighting, praise them for helping solve the issue.
EMOTIONS ARE REAL
Part of the difficulty may be that the siblings feel unheard. Make time to listen. Don’t dismiss how they feel. Acknowledge it. It’s actually okay to feel cross, jealous, sad. Life may be tough.
As much as you are able, make time for every child in your family. Take 5 minutes every day. Have a special time of the day. Put a date in the diary. Have fun away from the family home. Time to be together and time to talk. Have all members of the family part of decision making. Let everyone be heard.
Praise, praise and more praise. Notice the little things that are going on. Get the siblings to notice and comment. Make sure you notice and comment when the siblings do something kind, helpful, funny or amazing. You could formally write things down on a post-it note and share it, or write in a journal. All your children need to see that you notice them for the good things that are going on.
What are your expectations of the sibling? Do they feel more pressure to achieve academically, be socially confident, help around the house or just to be ‘good’. This can be huge burden for a child. Have realistic expectations. Just because a sibling is older in age, should they always be the one to back down or not get their choice. Are you being fair? This can lead to resentment and wont help build relationships. Have reasonable expectations of the siblings. They have a lot to deal with.
I know that your child with ADHD takes a lot of your focus, but keep your eye on the siblings. Watch out for changes in eating patterns or sleep. Do they have poor self-worth and seem moody or withdrawn? Have they lost interest in their hobbies or suffering from tummy aches or headaches. I am not a doctor or a therapist. But these things could be a red light that they are not happy. If you are concerned, and have tried all the suggestions above, seek medical help.
I hope that helps bring about a bit of harmony to your family. 💛