How Does Childhood ADHD Affect the Family?

Posted by FamilyFirst Psychological Services

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects not only the child who experiences the symptoms but also the child’s family system and social networks. Each family system must make accommodations to the diagnosed child in order to maintain the family’s stability. Typically, the necessary accommodations by the family are often extensive and affect all family members and roles. Families with a child or children diagnosed with ADHD face increased daily stress and frustration. Research indicates that members of a family with a child diagnosed with ADHD are at a greater risk for developing their own psychological distress than are family members of a child without this disorder. Below you will find brief descriptions of family challenges typically encountered in families with a child diagnosed with ADHD.

Impact on Parents. Parents of children with ADHD experience greater stress that goes beyond that found in normal child development. The more problematic the behaviors presented by the diagnosed child, the greater the stress experienced by the parents. Most parents with a child suffering from ADHD display more negative reactions around their children’s behaviors, have lower self-esteem, and feel their child has negatively impacted multiple areas of their lives. The ongoing struggles that parents with children diagnosed with ADHD encounter lead to great frustration as they attempt to manage school and home behaviors. These difficulties take away their attention from other children in the family as well as their own marriage. Eventually, these struggles become the focus of parental communication. Frustrated parents tend to report feelings of inadequacy around parenting abilities. Parents often experience great concern about their child’s difficulties, but also experience high level of guilt and blame. At times, such feelings may promote reactive responses by parents toward the diagnosed child that may lead to ineffective and negative parenting responses. Such responses may include blaming the child for his/her difficulties, becoming overly-protective and overly-involved in the child’s life, or display unhealthy communication patterns.

Impact on the Marriage. Stresses of raising a child with ADHD tend to spread into the marriage, which results in higher levels of marital dissatisfaction and conflict. These parents typically report that their conversations and interactions, even when alone, are centered on the child’s problems. Poor co-parenting skills further exacerbate the couple’s struggles. Often parents report lost intimacy and feeling disconnected from one another.

Impact on Siblings. Each sibling within the family system will likely respond differently to the child with ADHD. Siblings may distance themselves from the child because of embarrassment. Some studies indicate high rates of sibling aggressive interactions between the child with ADHD and his/her siblings. Siblings may also express feelings of anger and frustration toward their diagnosed sibling because they feel somewhat left out or rejected since the parents are often pre-occupied with the diagnosed child. Younger siblings especially cannot understand why their parents give so much attention to the “disruptive” sibling. Older siblings sometimes admit feeling sorry for the struggles that their parents face.

In summary, the behaviors displayed by children with ADHD influence parent-child relationships, spousal relationships, parental child rearing skills, child-sibling relationship, and the emotional state of the entire family system. As such, it is important to utilize an integrated family-oriented approach when treating childhood ADHD.

Maria Kanakos, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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