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Helping Siblings of Children With ADHD

When a Child's Brother or Sister Has ADHD

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Updated February 12, 2013

Helping Siblings of Children With ADHD

ADHD has an impact on all family members. Living with a brother or sister who has ADHD can evoke a wide range of emotions in siblings.

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Parenting a child with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can require a great deal of patience and understanding on the part of the parent, but what about the siblings? Having a brother or sister with ADHD can also be quite a challenge.

Children may experience all sorts of emotions living with a sibling with ADHD. They may feel exasperated, frustrated and baffled by their sibling’s behaviors. Days at home may seem exhausting and unpredictable. There may be jealousy about all the attention their sibling receives. The ADHD behaviors can be provoking and aggravating.

Battles, arguments and fighting can quickly ensue as the non-ADHD sibling finds it more and more difficult to maintain self-control and resist reacting in negative ways him or herself. The non-ADHD sibling may resent that he is expected to behave and not engage in inappropriate behavior. He may feel that his sibling gets extra chances or more rewards.

Some siblings may even take on too much responsibility, such as doing extra things for their sibling in attempts to help and avoid conflicts and then feeling angry and hurt when their sibling does not reciprocate or express appreciation. They may also try to take on the “good child” role, attempting to be perfect at everything - an exhausting and unrealistic role to take on! In some families these siblings may end up feeling invisible and unimportant, withdrawing from others unable to ask for help.

Below are several tips for helping your non-ADHD child cope with his or her sibling with ADHD.

Helping Siblings:

  • Schedule in regular one-on-one time with your non-ADHD child. Make sure this child is getting the positive attention and nurturing he (or she) needs.

  • Let this child know that you understand it can be challenging to deal with his ADHD sibling when he (or she) is having a tough time managing the ADHD symptoms. Give your child a safe place to vent and be heard.

  • Work with the non-ADHD child to give him techniques to appropriately deal with problematic behaviors from the ADHD sibling. Brainstorm, role play and practice these coping strategies so the responses begin to feel more automatic and natural for your child.

  • Be empathetic and understanding with your non-ADHD child when he has trouble dealing with the ADHD sibling. Understand that it may be difficult for your non-ADHD child to resist acting out himself when his ADHD sibling engages in provoking behaviors.

  • Be sure to structure the home in ADHD friendly ways (with clear house rules and consequences, specific routines, tight supervision, frequent feedback, lots of praise, etc.). This helps all the children and is a proactive way of helping your ADHD child manage difficult symptoms.

Additional Reading:
Tips for Families
Developing Positive Relationships
Parenting a Child With ADHD
School Tips for ADHD Kids

Source: Russell Barkley. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide for Parents. Guilford Press. 2005.
Patricia Quinn and Kathleen Nadeau. When Moms and Kids Have ADD. Advantage Books. 2004.

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