Q: Our middle child has ADHD and it's really been taking a toll on the rest of the family. Are there support groups for siblings of children with ADHD?
A: Parents are not the only family members affected by a child's ADHD symptoms. In fact, siblings of kids with ADHD sometimes suffer the most since Mom and Dad tend to be busy dealing with their brother or sister and can't spend as much time with them. Plus, common ADHD behaviors -- like physical or verbal aggression or out-of-control hyperactivity -- can disrupt daily family life and ruin special occasions. In fact, a recent study found that many siblings of kids with ADHD described their home lives as chaotic and conflicted.
Although there are support groups for siblings of kids with ADHD out there, they're not available in every community. Check out CHAAD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) to see if there's one in your area. If not, talk to your local CHADD reps about starting one, since you're probably not the only parent concerned. Experts also point out that there are several things you can do at home to ease the burden on your other kids, including:
• If your child with ADHD attacks your other child (either verbally or physically) don't minimize the hurt she may feel. Acknowledge that she's been wronged and give her time to talk through her anger. Downplaying sibling aggression can leave a child feeling alone and unprotected.
• Spend time alone with your non-affected child and do special things like visit an amusement park. This allows her some time when she doesn't have to worry about her sibling's behavior disrupting the fun.
• Do everything you can to dole out equal attention to all your kids. Help with homework, make breakfast, and don't expect more than what's age-appropriate. Siblings of kids with ADHD often feel compelled to take on too much responsibility because they sense that their parents are already so overwhelmed.
• No matter how exhausted you are, don't make your other child feel like her sibling's caregiver.
• Sometimes the "star charts" or behavioral reward program you use for your child with ADHD can be adapted for your other children, so that you can use the system to praise and reward them for areas that they are struggling with, including any problematic responses they may have to their ADHD sibling.