My ADD Son Fights With His Brother All the Time

Filed under: Siblings, Expert Advice: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Expert Advice: Big Kids, Expert Advice: Family Time, Expert Advice: Home Base


Dear AdviceMama,

My wife and I have two boys, 5 and 7. Our younger son -- who is on meds for ADHD -- argues and fights with his brother over anything and everything. This really irritates both of us, we lose control and my wife starts yelling at me, which causes our sons to start defending me against her. What can we do to stop this horrible cycle in our home? I don't want our children to suffer any long-term effects from our behavior.

Please help so I can have some confidence back in my life and keep my marriage together, as I love my wife and boys!

Signed,
Swimming in Chaos


Dear Swimming,

I'm not a big fan of the ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) label for many reasons, (though I don't discount the reality of the many difficulties that accompany the diagnosis.) People with the ADD or ADHD diagnosis don't have a deficit or lack of attention as much as an inflexibility of attention. They can focus perfectly well when they're engaged; it's reining in their wandering attention when they aren't interested in the subject matter that is the problem.

And while ADD can create many challenges for an individual because of the difficulties with impulsivity, focus and planning, I have misgivings about calling it a "disorder," per se. As someone with the diagnosis, I can list countless ways that my ADD-ishness has added to my life, rather than limited it.

That said, because of issues in impulse control, frustration tolerance, organization and so on, one of the hallmark characteristics in an ADD household is chaos and drama. What you've described is quite typical of what goes on behind closed doors when at least one person in a family has the characteristics that go with the diagnosis.

I commend you for recognizing the problems you and your wife have with escalating the drama when things get tense with your boys. Taking responsibility for becoming reactive and losing control is the first step toward changing that behavior.

If the Captain of a ship sails off course and into a storm, he first needs to get to safety, and then determine what went wrong with his navigation system. What he doesn't need to do is waste time getting upset that he veered off course into the storm.

While you could make all kinds of arguments about why your sons shouldn't fight, you would be better off considering the reasons their fighting happens, putting your energy toward dealing with the underlying causes, rather than letting the behavior trigger you to lose your cool.

You can't control your wife's outbursts, but you can manage your own by considering what your younger son gets out of arguing with his older brother? Attention when his brother's been ignoring him? Something to do when he's bored? An outlet for his own frustrations?

By addressing the causes of your sons' misbehavior and helping them find other outlets for their frustrations or boredom, instead of allowing it to fuel drama between the four of you, you'll be acting as the calm Captain of the ship they need you to be, rather than one more voice contributing to the chaos.

Yours in parenting support,
AdviceMama


AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.