Last week at dinner, I asked my family for blogging suggestions. I needed a push. A shove really. I’d started a few blogs over the holidays, but nothing felt right. I didn’t want to waste my time writing about a saturated ADHD topic, either.
Normally, my 17-year-old daughter listens while my husband, my son, and I talk, talk, talk at the dinner table. But that evening, without skipping a beat, my daughter said one word that gave me the push I needed.
“Siblings,” she said, scooping another helping of Greek salad onto her plate. “You should write about how parents can help the siblings of kids with ADHD.”
We looked at her quizzically. Emma went on to share a story. She recalled a time years earlier when she and I were at Target desperately searching for the right bubble bath soap that would entice her older brother, Will, into the bathtub. She might have been four, which would have made him about seven. I have no recollection of the event, but I can conjure the scene. I envision us scanning the bubble bath section for a “Monsters Inc” movie-themed bottle.
Emma said that even back then, she understood the importance of our mission. As Will’s sister, she was very familiar with his hypersensitivity to all kinds of things. Will had been diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten and had many sensory integration differences, a common co-occurrence for people with ADHD.
Common offenders for Will were Styrofoam, lumpy yogurt, off-key music, jeans, sandals (except Italian leather ones from Nordstrom’s!), and most foods (other than bow-tie pasta noodles with butter). Getting Will into the bathtub required much preparation and finesse. He needed the perfect water temperature, extra soft washrags, and a rubber visor to shield his eyes from water. Even then, something usually went wrong.
That evening at the dinner table,
Emma shared that that day, when we were at Target, she’d asked if she could pick out her own bubble bath. “What did I say?” I asked, hoping I did the right thing. “You said sure, but we’d have to do it another day,” she replied. “Did we?” I asked. “No, but it’s okay Mom. I was mad then, but I understood more as I got older.”
“Crap Emma, I’m sorry,” I apologized.
“Maybe I didn’t need all the help,” Will blurted from across the dinner table.
“You did,” Emma said, deadpan.
As I listened to their banter, I felt badly about my poor follow-through with Emma, but proud of her for sharing her truth. I also felt proud of Will for listening.
Here’s my take-away: As parents, we need to stay sensitive to all of our kids’ needs, not just the one with the squeaky wheels.
While this may seem like common sense, it’s not as easy as it sounds, particularly if one child struggles with multiple parts of life (e.g., eating, sleeping, dressing, following directions), and other children within the same family function more independently.
Here are my daughter’s TOP 5 Parenting Recommendations For Supporting Siblings
#1 Plan one-on-one time with each sibling
One-on-one time can be as simple as alternating who gets to go to the grocery store with you each week, or taking a 20-minute walk. If you make it out as a special event, your child will feel special too.
#2 Explain ADHD to your other children in a kid-friendly way so they have a better understanding of why your ADHD child needs the extra support.
I spoke with Emma about why certain chores were harder for her brother (e.g., organization is hard for people with ADHD; his brain works differently).
Sadly, there are not many books out there for siblings of a child with ADHD (I need to get writing!). Cory’s Stories: A Kid’s Book about Living with ADHD is a lovely book written to help children understand their own ADHD diagnosis. I think this would be a great book for siblings too, as it is written from a child’s perspective.
#3 Go the extra mile for your non-ADHD children, too.
For example, if you pick out a special bubble bath for your ADHD child due to their sensory needs, let your other children pick one out as well. If your ADHD child LOVES his or her weighted blanket, consider asking relatives to go in on a weighted blanket for your non-ADHD child or children if they want one. It will serve an equally important need. Simple gestures like this mean a lot to the siblings of the ADHD child, though they might not mention it.
Here’s a link to ThreeHighChairs, a shop on Etsy developed by a mother of triplets, one of whom has Sensory Processing disorder and Autism. Amanda makes weighted blankets, weighted lap pads, and all kinds of other things. I bought my son Will’s blanket from her and he now has it with him at college!
#4 Remind each child that they are just as important to you as your ADHD child despite the extra efforts your ADHD child needs.
My daughter spent a lot of time crafting this recommendation. As parents, we assume that our children know that we love them all equally, but clearly my daughter wanted to hear this more from me. These reminders could be as simple as, “Emma, even though I have to spend more time with your brother at night to help him fall asleep, I want you to know that I love you to the moon and back.”
#5 Do what you can to nurture positive sibling relationships.
Okay, I’ll come clean. My daughter did not come up with this one. But I hear about strained sibling relatinoships ALOT at work, especially when one sibling in the family has special needs.
As parents, we all want our kids to get along. But when one child in the family has unique needs, jealousy and resentment can fester between siblings. Here are a few suggestions to support siblings:
- Avoid negative comparisons (e.g., “You’re the oldest. You should know better”), which can trigger resentment towards the ADHD child.
- Identify triggers for conflict and help your children find solutions. For example, if your ADHD child is constantly making noise (e.g., humming, tongue-clicking, tapping their foot), which annoys their siblings, remind your other children that their sibling isn’t doing it to annoy them. It’s associated with hyperactivity.
But then, strategize on how to address the issue:
- Have your ADHD child chew sugar-free gum, sit on a wiggle seat, or manipulate Aaron’s Thinking Putty to reduce noise-making.
- Encourage your non-ADHD children to put on headphones and listen to music to buffer unwanted noise.
- Encourage all of your children to go outside and MOVE when tension arises.
- Teach Empathy. Model empathy within your family and when your children express frustration about others outside of the family, such as friends. Discuss each other’s highs and lows for the day or week during dinner.
In closing, here’s 5 Ways to Support Siblings of ADHD Children
- Plan out and spend one-on-one time with each of your children.
- Talk openly about ADHD in your family to help siblings understand why your ADHD child needs extra help in certain areas.
- Go out of your way for your neurotypical kids, too.
- Remind all of your children that they are equally important to you.
- Actively nurture positive sibling relationships.
I hope this was helpful. If you tip to support siblings, please post it in the comments below.
And if you liked this post, please press “like” and pass it on to others! 🙂
Your ADHD Friend and Guru,