ADHD Siblings: Sharing Your Attention Equally with Non-ADD Children

Expert advice for making sure that your children without ADHD also get the time and consideration they deserve.

Caught in the Middle, Part 2

So what's the better approach? Sonna recommends taking the focus off the don'ts and focusing on the dos. "If you're constantly telling your child what not to do, you're not telling him what he should be doing," she says. "Instead of saying, 'Don't yell like that - it's embarrassing me,' say, 'Please lower your voice - we're in a library, so we need to be quiet.'"

Try suggesting this approach as something your non-ADD child can use to help smooth her sibling's social interactions. For example, if your non-ADD daughter notices that her ADD brother is getting worked up because no one is asking him to play ball at recess - and she's afraid he might cause a scene - maybe she can suggest that he calmly go over and ask if he can join the game, or get his own ball and offer to share it with the others.

"She always embarrasses me..."

It always seems to happen in a store, at a family friend's house, or when you're splurging on a family dinner in a nice restaurant: Just when your ADDer needs to be on her best behavior, she throws a fit. Public meltdowns are embarrassing enough for parents, and they can be absolutely humiliating to your non-ADD children, who lack the emotional maturity to make sense of their sibling's outburst.

"If your child with ADD is older, the younger sibling might have an emotional response and act out, as well," says William Lord Coleman, M.D., professor of pediatrics at the Center for Development and Learning at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. "If the ADD child is younger, on the other hand, his older sibling may scold him and become a little parent."

To avoid embarrassing episodes, steer clear of places and situations where you know problems are likely to arise. If your ADDer often acts out in restaurants, for example, pick someplace that has fast service. "Practicing the correct way to behave in a restaurant before you go helps, too," says Coleman. "It lets your kids rehearse good behavior at a time when there is no pressure to be well-behaved."

If your non-ADD child seems embarrassed by her sibling's behavior, encourage her to express her feelings to you privately. Do not blame her for feeling embarrassed. Say something like, "Sometimes he embarrasses me, too. But when that happens, I think of how funny he can be, and that makes me feel better."

It's also important to encourage your non-ADD child to stick up for her brother or sister around friends - for example, by focusing on the sibling's strengths rather than his weaknesses. She can tell peers, "Sure, Johnny acts silly sometimes, but did you know he's the fastest runner in his class?"

Another option, says Dr. Sonna, is to ask your non-ADD child what he thinks you should do to help his sibling behave better. "This makes your child feel important, and kids can come up with some surprisingly good ideas," says Sonna.

"He's always picking on me..."

All kids find their siblings irritating sometimes. But ADDers are more likely to get irritated than other kids - and more likely to lash out verbally or physically when they are.

"Our 10-year-old, Matt, who has ADD and impulsivity issues, is always attacking his six-year-old brother, Brandon," says Lisa Ernst, of Limerick, Pennsylvania. "If they're playing hockey together, and Brandon is doing better, Matt will check him hard and make him fall down. And recently, when Brandon refused to give Matt a chance to play a game on the computer, Matt bent Brandon's finger back so hard I thought it was broken. I know all kids fight, but Matt has a rapid-fire attack that can get out of hand quickly. I worry that things will worsen as they get older."


This article comes from the August/September 2006 issue of ADDitude.

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