Children with ADHD – how to support their siblings

Brothers fighting
Sibling rivalry is a common issue in many households, but it can be extra challenging for the family of a child with ADHD. We offer expert advice on ways you and your family can negotiate living with ADHD.
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Stephen Hemmings is a child with ADHD. When family friends visit, 10-year-old Stephen is the most likely of mum Sharon’s four children to ask whether they’d like a cup of tea, then to serve it in a teacup with a biscuit or two on the side.

He is typical of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – bright, articulate, imaginative and loving.

But he is also the most likely to snatch a toy away from his three-year-old sister, crash-ride his bike into his 12-year-old brother and burst into the room while his 14-year-old sister is chilling with school friends.

“One minute he is the perfect gentleman. The next he’s provoking his brother and sisters,” says Sharon. “Stephen is full on. He doesn’t focus on anything for very long, hardly sits still and is always bored. So he’ll often invite himself to get involved in what someone else is doing and then ruin it if they protest.”

Rivalry in the home

Sibling rivalry is a part of every family, but when one of the children has ADHD disagreements can become more frequent and wearisome.
The problem is that children with ADHD often misjudge social situations. They’re impatient, butting into conversations and speaking loudly over others to get their points across. They may also do silly or inappropriate things, to the embarrassment of their parents and siblings.

Children with ADHD are often excluded from social gatherings, such as parties. And the bad news for siblings is that they can often be lumped together and rejected on the same grounds.

Another reason why siblings may feel resentment toward the child with ADHD is because they tend to demand and receive more of the parents’ attention.

Support for siblings

Dr Graeme Lamb runs a clinic for children with ADHD and their families in Newham, east London. He says it can be difficult because the symptoms and behaviours of ADHD are so often misconstrued as bad behaviour or attention seeking.

“Siblings of the child with ADHD can be subject to these negative media messages, which can have even more of an impact if there is little communication in the home to help them to understand what the sibling is experiencing,” explains Dr Lamb. “Helping siblings to see the child as having a disorder may be helpful.”

Services for siblings

The Sibling Support Service run by Barnardo’s offers specialist support to the brothers and sisters of disabled children through group work.
The service aims to reduce the negative impact of disability on siblings and encourage the inclusion of siblings when family support needs are being assessed.

It offers opportunity for siblings to express themselves in a safe and secure environment without fear of upsetting their families, build confidence and have the opportunity to recognise the positive aspects of their family life. They are also helped to recognise and find ways to cope with difficult behaviours they may experience at home or school. This includes being able to answer difficult questions posed to them and curious peers who want to know why their brother or sister is ‘different’.

For more on this and similar services in your area visit www.barnardos.org.uk.