Nurturing Sibling Relationships with ADHD
Relationships are challenging for people with ADHD, and this is true for all relationships. One relationship that isn’t always talked about through an ADHD lens is sibling relationships. Sibling relationships are some of the most profound and impactful relationships that an individual will have in their lifetime. Siblinghood is often how we learn the intricacies and resiliency of a lasting loving relationship. Siblings learn that they can love someone through anger, mistakes, and frustrations. Siblings learn how to argue and how to make up in an atmosphere that is ideally loving and accepting. Siblinghood when one or more of the siblings have ADHD can be a little more complicated. Just like in friendships and romantic relationships, the executive functioning challenges that come with ADHD can be hard on relationships. Time management, impulsivity, emotional regulation, working memory, and selective attention are all areas that can be impacted by ADHD. These areas can also have a big impact on relationships particularly when the behaviours look like forgetfulness, impulsive decisions, and big emotions.
Positive sibling relationships are something that you can nurture in your home as a parent. I have listed some strategies and thoughts below. Let me know if you have any tools or techniques that work in your household.
1) Structure the home in ADHD friendly ways to help prevent frustrating symptoms in the first place. ADHD friendly structures typically benefit all siblings in the household not just those with ADHD.
2) Ensure that each sibling receives the attention and nurturing they need. Even if they don’t ask for it! When you have one or more children displaying challenging behaviours, particularly externalized behaviours, it is very easy to focus your attention towards the “squeaky wheel.” Purposefully directing attention towards a quieter sibling, even when it isn’t demanded, will help to reduce frustrations and jealousy.
3) Teach, model, and practice techniques that decrease difficult behaviours to both the ADHD siblings and the neurotypical siblings. An ADHD diagnosis and what a sibling with ADHD needs for support should never be a secret. Siblings can become part of the solution when they know how to help!
4) Have regular open conversations about each family member’s strengths and challenges (ADHD or not) to help create an atmosphere of empathy and awareness. Every member of every family is unique. Creating an environment where sharing this information is embraced will help siblings to realize that everyone has things to lean into and to overcome.
5) Provide opportunities for quiet independent play time. Siblings playing together, sharing their toys, and exploring the world together is wonderful and essential. But, sometimes allowing children independent time with beloved toys where they can have free rein with their imagination can make it easier for them to share down the road.
6) Provide a safe place for siblings to vent frustrations. Frustration, arguments, and hurt feelings between siblings are normal. If a child is struggling, allow them to walk away, calm down and talk it out if they want to. Empathize and validate their feelings. Don’t be afraid for your child to admit that their sibling relationship is hard sometimes. Emotions need to be expressed, providing a safe space for this is essential.
7) Don’t immediately intervene everytime siblings disagree. Always ensure that your children are safe, but providing time and space for siblings to figure things out on their own and to use the techniques that you have taught them is how they learn. Sometimes we as parents jump in too soon, try stepping back and counting to 100 before intervening next time a sibling disagreement pops up in your household.
As a mom of two siblings myself, this topic is particularly important to me. I hope that my girls will continue to play together, disagree with each other, push each other, and love each other through their childhood and then adulthood. I hope that this process helps them to learn about love and relationships in an impactful way that shapes future relationships with friends and romantic partners.
Strengths Based ADHD and Behaviour Coaching
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