Unlocking ADHD writer Constance Thum explores how having an ADHD child in the family may strain sibling relationships and siblings’ perceptions of their ADHD sibling, before concluding with intervention strategies to improve family dynamics.
Sibling Relations and Perceptions
Siblings can be highly influential and important people in our lives given that they have been our companions since childhood. Sibling relationships vary across families and undergo cycles of fighting and making up. However, ADHD can adversely affect sibling relationships and add stress to the family.
Families with ADHD children may face education and financial pressures. Worries about their child’s academic development and future career may mean that parents spend more time with their ADHD child and neglect their other children. When managing a hyperactive ADHD child, parents may also be too drained to engage with their other kids afterwards. Conversely, parents may pay more attention and invest more resources on the non-ADHD sibling; sparking jealousy, resentment, and rivalry between the ADHD child and their sibling.
Sibling relationships may be strained as a result of behavioural and emotional issues associated with ADHD children. Impulsiveness and disruptiveness could damage sibling relationships, while hyperactivity may wear siblings out and cause them to be physically or emotionally exhausted.
Non-ADHD siblings may even be tasked with being the caregiver of their ADHD sibling, which could further add to their anxiety and unhappiness. According to a 2016 study, researchers found that sibling perceptions of their ADHD sibling largely revolved around four main themes of differential parental treatment, feelings of rejection, inconsistent discipline, and the parent-substitute child (non-ADHD siblings who have to care for or accommodate their ADHD siblings).
A 2008 scientific study also supported the fact that ADHD may affect sibling or family dynamics since conflict was more likely to occur between ADHD children and non-ADHD siblings compared to non-problem siblings, and in general there was suggested to be less warmth and closeness between ADHD children and their non-ADHD siblings.
To improve sibling relationships, families may consider the following intervention strategies (more information):
- Parents may encourage siblings to engage in games or organise outings that would give siblings an opportunity to bond
- Parents should also have discussions with ADHD children and their non-ADHD siblings both separately and together. Such discussions may revolve around the feelings of ADHD children and non-ADHD siblings, their challenges faced, and possible solutions
- It is important for parents to be impartial and to try to pay equal attention to their children to ensure none of them feel neglected
- To protect both children, it is essential for parents to set strict rules against bullying, be it ADHD children bullying their siblings or vice versa
- If sibling relationships worsen or if family dynamics remain dysfunctional, families may consider family counselling or therapy