I think we all agree that parenting a child with ADHD or Anxiety presents unique challenges. If you have other children without the condition, it's hard to balance parenting equally. So, it's essential to recognize the potential impact on them. The delicate balancing act required in a household with an ADHD child, especially in severe cases, can lead to unintentional neglect of the needs of the sibling without ADHD. This oversight can make the non-ADHD child feel marginalized or, worse, invisible. As these siblings navigate the struggles, a mix of emotions and feelings emerge and shape that sibling's growth.
The child without ADHD may bear the brunt of a stressed parent's frustration or imitate the unacceptable behavior of their ADHD sibling, leading to misunderstandings and tension. Siblings of children with ADHD often find themselves sidelined, receiving less attention than their counterparts. The public acting out of their ADHD sibling can lead to feelings of embarrassment, while a sense of guilt may arise from acknowledging their brother or sister's specific challenges. Witnessing ongoing stresses at home can pressure them to assume the "good kid" role to balance the family dynamic.
While sibling rivalry is a normal part of childhood development, ADHD can intensify conflicts in various ways. Lack of understanding of acceptable behavior, frustration, and anger may escalate the level of conflict between siblings. Additionally, resentment and jealousy may surface if a non-ADHD sibling perceives they are receiving less attention from parents.
Interestingly, in some cases, parents may observe a decrease in typical sibling rivalry when one child has ADHD. However, this apparent harmony may mask difficult emotions experienced by the non-ADHD child, including guilt or a sense of responsibility to maintain peace at home. They may fear blame for provoking challenging behavior in their sibling, accepting such behavior as a natural part of life. This acceptance can lead to low self-esteem, frustration, and resentment.
So, how do we address these challenges? The first strategy we need to use is to be aware of our actions and reactions. For many of us, we're so tired. of the pushback and power struggles from the child with ADHD that we find ourselves having less patience overall. When the "usually good" child then acts out, we struggle with heightened exasperation, which is totally not fair to our children and can make them feel guilty or frustrated.
So, as parents, we need to set the tone of the home. That means establishing clear rules for everyone, defining unacceptable behaviors, and holding consequences consistently for each child. That sounds obvious, but what isn't is that we get so tired of conflict in the house that sometimes we let things go, we try to avert the tantrum or meltdown by giving in when we normally wouldn't. Pick your battles is an important motto in parenting, but walking on eggshells and letting the more volatile child run the house is not the way to go.
Now that we see and acknowledge that our kids are not treated completely fairly or equally, there are some strategies we can use to shift that and to help our neurotypical child handle the chaos we are trying to avoid.
First of all, my clients find a huge shift happens when they dedicate one-on-one time
after work or on weekends to bond with their children, especially the neurotypical ones who do not get as much time with us. Walking, visiting an amusement park, or having dinner together strengthens the connection. Put your phone down, leave your ADHD child with your partner or a friend, and really be present. This is a great time to work on bonding and communication. Ask your child about their feelings and actively listen without rushing to the defense of the ADHD sibling. Hold space for their honest feelings, whether sweet and loving or angry and frustrated. We need to hear them and validate their emotions. Addressing concerns early on can prevent anxiety disorders in the non-ADHD child. At the same time, we want to avoid creating an "us versus them" dynamic.
Along those lines, remember to set boundaries and establish clear rules. Clarify expectations for ADHD and non-ADHD siblings, ensuring consistent rules and responsibilities for all children in the household. Those rules need to be short, developmentally realistic, and attainable. For instance, you may have a no-hitting rule. Just remember that with those rules, there needs to be consistent consequences for violations, like immediate time-outs, to help maintain order and quiet the chaos.
Remember that seemingly hidden anxieties, such as embarrassment or worry about social situations, can also affect the non-ADHD child. It is not easy having friends over when you don't know if your sibling will have a meltdown. It can also be hard for them to be in a social situation or out at a restaurant when that happens. We don't want our kids to worry incessantly or feel anxious around their siblings. If that is happening, think about hiring a coach or counselor either for the whole family or even one just for your non-ADHD child. Having a place to put those feelings and learn some anxiety-coping skills can make a world of difference. Open communication and understanding will help create a supportive family environment for all of you.