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 3

What's a parent to do? Consistent discipline is crucial; children behave better when mom and dad establish specific rules for behavior and impose consequences for not meeting those rules. "Matt knows that if he hits his brother, he's going to his room for an hour," says Ernst. "If we enforce that rule, we know there will be no more trouble that evening. He's always more respectful when he emerges from his room."

If your children seem to get into fights at certain times of day - just before dinner or while doing homework - consider separating them at those times. Of course, medication and/or counseling may also help your ADDer rein in the impulsivity that fuels his combative behavior.

"I have to do all the work..."

When household chores need doing, you may reflexively turn first to your non-ADD child - and no wonder. You know she'll be quick to pitch in, whereas you might have to remind your ADD child repeatedly before he helps out. As Dr. Grossman puts it, "One child has to pick up the slack for the sibling who has ADD because the parents don't have the time or energy to deal with the other child's behavior."

Over time, your non-ADD child could begin to resent the fact that she is being asked to do more than her fair share of the work. This complicates relationships within the family.

For a family to run smoothly, everyone must do his share. One good strategy is to post on your refrigerator a list of chores that need to be done, who is responsible for each, and when each must be done. Keep any necessary supplies on hand at all times.

"My younger child, Nathan, has ADD. When he and his sister were growing up, she did more chores than he did," says Luann Fitzpatrick of Batavia, Illinois. "One thing that helped was writing down all the steps of the chores we expected Nathan to do. For example, I expected each of my kids to do their own laundry once they became teens. For Nathan, I wrote down instructions for separating colors from whites, for measuring the detergent, and for properly setting the machine. Having the information right in front of him made it easier for him."

In some cases, siblings of ADD kids become perfectionists. "Kids with siblings who demand a lot of attention often fall into a pattern of feeling that, because their sibling creates so much turmoil, they have to suppress their own needs to avoid adding to their parents' stress," says Dr. Sonna. "They want to take pressure off their parents by being perfect children. Of course, they're simply turning the stress on themselves instead. Parents may inadvertently add to these feelings when they overreact if their non-ADD child misbehaves by saying things like, 'I put up with your brother all day long. I can't take it from you, too.'"

To curb such attempts at perfectionism, think twice before criticizing any of your children. "Make sure each child has her own space to chill out, as well as plenty of opportunities to be with friends, who can be a great outlet," says Dr. Grossman. Don't expect too much from your non-ADD child - or too little from your ADDer.


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

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