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.

 Parental Attention for ADD/ADHD kids ADDitude Magazine

Avoid falling into a cycle in which you constantly criticize everything one child does and always praise the other child.

Linda Sonna, Ph.D., child psychologist

If you're the parent of a child who has attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD), you probably spend a big chunk of each day trying to see the world through that child's eyes. But what about the non-ADD siblings of children with ADD/ADHD? How much time do you devote to meeting their needs? Perhaps not as much as you should, experts say.

As a parent, you want all your children to grow up healthy and happy and to reach their full potential. You want to give them equal attention and afford them the same advantages. But it's an inescapable truth that a child who is impulsive, distractible, or hyperactive demands a lot of your time and energy. It's easy to become so focused on that child that you shortchange the rest of your brood - even though they need you just as much. In fact, there are times when a non-ADD child needs you even more. After all, having a "spirited" sibling can cause a range of painful emotions: embarrassment, exasperation, guilt, and even fear.

How can you give each of your children the attention he or she needs without causing the others to feel neglected? Listen to what your non-ADD kids say to you. Here are some common complaints of children who have brothers or sisters with ADD - and the smart way for parents to respond.

"She gets all the attention..."

The number-one complaint of non-ADD siblings is that a brother or sister demands so much attention from their parents that there's little left over for them. As a parent, you may think that your non-ADD child is doing just fine with the status quo. Don't be so sure. Signs that a child feels neglected can be subtle, although there's usually something you can pick up on.

"Some kids will complain directly to their parents, saying, 'You only pay attention to him,'" says Fred Grossman, Ph.D., a psychologist with the public-school system in Portland, Oregon. "Others may withdraw and feel jealous or resentful. Other children will act out themselves as a way to get more attention."

That's what happened in the Plainview family of Connecticut. Soon after her eight-year-old sister, Sarah, began seeing a therapist for her ADD, seven-year-old Addie, who does not have ADD, started throwing tantrums and exhibiting the same behaviors that Sarah had shown."She cried and said how hard it was to have a sister with ADD, because she got all the attention," says the girls' mother, Lisa Plainview. "We made an appointment for Addie to see Sarah's counselor, too, and after a couple of sessions, things calmed down considerably. By seeing Sarah's 'special doctor,' Addie felt special, too."

The first step in closing the attention gap, experts say, is to acknowledge your non-ADD child's feelings. "Just knowing that you're aware of the situation and want to improve it can help your child," says Dr. Grossman, who runs sibling workshops for kids with ADD. "Spending time alone with each of your children every day is also important."

Extra attention for Nicole has certainly helped things in the Kerimian family. "I grocery-shop every Sunday morning, and I alternate which of my girls I take with me," says Debby Kerimian. "We go out to breakfast first and talk. It's a special time. Nicole is always well-behaved when it's just the two of us."

"I feel sorry for him..."

Seeing a brother or sister get more attention doesn't always trigger jealousy in non-ADD siblings. Sometimes it triggers guilt or pity. Though she may never admit it, she does love her sibling. Hearing him criticized can make her feel guilty - especially if she sees herself as her parents' "favorite."

"Avoid falling into a cycle in which you constantly criticize everything one child does and always praise the other child," says Linda Sonna, Ph.D., a child psychologist in private practice in Taos, New Mexico, and author of The Everything Parent's Guide to Children with ADD/ADHD and The Everything Parent's Guide to Raising Siblings. "The one thing parents should never say is, 'Why can't you be more like your brother or sister?' Comments like that can alienate children."

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

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TAGS: Siblings of ADHD Children, Behavior in ADHD Kids

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