Your child with ADHD may naturally demand more of your time and attention. But that doesn’t mean his or her siblings might aren’t dealing with their own unique, important issues, too.
Any parent of more than one child understands the inevitability of sibling rivalry, from fighting over toys to competing for Mom and Dad’s attention. But when one of your kids has ADHD, sibling dynamics and challenges tend to extend beyond arguments over the iPad or scoops of ice cream.
“Siblings of children with ADHD experience a litany of unique issues as they grow up, ranging from embarrassment when their brother or sister acts up in the middle of the supermarket to guilt as to why their sibling has certain challenges and they don’t,” explains Don Meyer, director of the Seattle-based Sibling Support Project, a national program dedicated to the brothers and sisters of people with special health, developmental, and mental health concerns, and founder of Sibshops, national peer support groups for school-age brothers and sisters of kids with special needs.
In most families, kids butt heads — sometimes daily, sometimes hourly. But in a home where one child has ADHD, parents may notice lower-than-average rates of sibling bickering and arguing. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Wrong. Silence may mean your typically-developing child is dealing with some heavy emotions of his or her own. “A lot of siblings feel guilty about the fact that they can do things easily that their brother or sister struggles with, so when they do inevitably lash out against each other, there’s an immense guilt that comes along with that,” Meyer explains.
In fact, studies have shown that siblings of children with ADHD tend to be overly accepting of their brother or sister, and sometimes passive at home because they understand how much extra time and attention their sibling requires. They don’t want to bother or over-stress their parents. They also may be more likely to simply accept their sibling’s behavior — even instances of bullying or blatant rule breaking — as a natural part of life.
“If possessions get stolen or taken, or there’s any hitting going on, parents need to be clear that they are always on the side of what’s right,” asserts Elizabeth A. Batson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in California and author of I Have Needs Too!: Supporting the Child Whose Sibling Has Special Needs. “The rules need to be followed by everyone, and there are behaviors that are simply not acceptable — and all of your children need to see that so the siblings know that how they feel matters, too.”
Pressure to be the “Good Kid”
Because your daughter regularly witnesses her brother’s meltdowns or his nightly homework struggles, she might put pressure on herself to bring home straight As or become the star player on the soccer field. “These are children who put a ton of pressure on themselves to balance the scale at home,” Meyer says, noting that siblings of children with special needs tend to be overachievers because they feel pressure to be the “good kid” and not cause…
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