ADHD and the Family

Family relaxing with their feet on the coffee table
Having a child with ADHD is stressful for the whole family. ADHD can strain relationships between parents and children, between two parents, or with extended family:

  • Parents need to be constantly vigilant to monitor their child’s behaviour and emotions and assess what is and is not working. In addition, caring for a child with ADHD is often expensive and time-consuming. The resulting worry can spill over to the rest of the family.
  • Parents may feel like they are not doing a good job. They may start to doubt their own knowledge and ability as parents. They may be frustrated with their child or with themselves.
  • Two parents may disagree on the best way to cope with the condition, or they may have different reactions to specific behaviour.
  • Children with ADHD behave unpredictably and have many ups and downs. They are easily distracted, impulsive, and disorganized, and often misunderstand or miss instructions.
  • Depending on the child’s medication schedule, his symptoms may be controlled during the school day but not in the early morning or the evening. This can interfere with family routines and put the whole family on edge.
  • If the child also has conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, this can further stress family relationships.
  • Children with ADHD may also suffer from low self-esteem. They may blame themselves for having ADHD or believe they are bad or stupid.
  • Siblings of children with ADHD may resent the amount of time and attention their sibling needs. They may be sad or angry with their sibling for disrupting the family, or with their parents for allowing it.
  • Families of children with ADHD also tend to have less contact with others, including extended family. This can lead to isolation and stress.

Parents of children with ADHD are more likely to go through separations or divorces.

Concerns at different ages

ADHD can affect families in different ways depending on the age of the child who has ADHD. Generally, the older the child with ADHD, the more family conflict may occur.

Preschoolers

Preschoolers with ADHD need to be more highly supervised than other children of that age. They may have associated difficulties such as delayed development, oppositional behaviour, or poor social skills. Parents can feel stressed when their child does not respond to their requests and advice.

School age children

Children of school age may have difficulties at home or on outings with their caregivers. Acting up when shopping, out in the park, or visiting other family members tend to become more apparent at this age. Parents of school age children with ADHD have little time to themselves. Whenever the child is awake, the parents have to be watching them. Parents may find that family members refuse to care for the child, and that other children do not invite them to parties or out to play.

Teenagers

Teenagers with ADHD and their parents rate themselves as having more parent-teen conflict compared with teenagers who do not have ADHD.  Battles around homework and chores become more common. Parents and teenagers may differ in their opinions regarding the management of ADHD. For example, they may disagree on whether medication is needed. Parents often struggle between a desire to support their teen and wanting their teen to become a better advocate for himself.

In this section, the "Coping With ADHD as a Family" page gives tips on how to work together as a family to cope with ADHD.

Tara McAuley, PhD, CPsych

Peter Chaban, MA, MEd

Rosemary Tannock, PhD

10/14/2009


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