Q: I have two teen-aged children. The eldest has ADHD and learning difficulties and the associated struggles. Although this child is now doing well, my other child is showing signs of anxiety, depression and a lack of confidence. What can we do?
A: I will answer this in 2 parts:
Children with ADHD and academic difficulties are often very time consuming and frequently have poor social skills. Parents’ time is inordinately spent with meetings with the school; homework; schedules and professionals that offer counselling, social skills, assessments and medical interventions. In families where one child requires special attention, it is not unusual for a second child to miss this intense focus. Even when the second child is self-sufficient, they can at times feel less important or worthy. They may have to endure their sibling’s inappropriate play, name calling and bullying. The special needs child does not mean harm but is often inappropriate.
With this in mind, it is not surprising that your child may have developed poor self-esteem. The child without special needs may experience grief, confusion, guilt and anger. They are often embarrassed by their sibling and feel that it is their role to be responsible and mature in order to alleviate some of the family stress.
Now we must treat the identified child as we treat anyone who experiences anxiety and depression. Allowing the child to talk through these emotions is often helpful. There are teachable skills that will help with anxiety and depression.
Intentional proactive action can help avoid future distress. When faced with this situation, make special time for the child who does not demand the attention. Do not allow the child with poor social skills to name call or humiliate the other child even if they “don’t understand” the impact. Recognize that the responsible child may feel hurt and loss and may take the inappropriate comments to heart. It is a difficult juggling act. Sometimes the best thing a family can do is get supportive counselling for the child who does not have the special needs. Most important is to try to anticipate the future impact on the second child and be proactive in mitigating the damage. This is easier said than done but I do believe families can be successful so that every one wins.