Grandparents misinterpret hyperactivity

From Tots to Teens

November 19, 1996|By Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe | Dr. Modena Wilson and Dr. Alain Joffe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My parents are coming for Thanksgiving and I'm already nervous. Our 9-year-old has ADHD. He is very active and impulsive, but he does well at school with medication. My parents seem to think his behavior at home is a result of poor disciplining on our part and are very harsh with him. He dreads their visits. Any suggestions?

Children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder have a medical condition that makes it difficult for them to pay attention and to control their behavior. They can be quite a challenge for their families, and it helps to remember that their overactive behavior and impulsiveness are not their fault. Nor is it the fault of their parents, and it makes a sometimes difficult situation even more stressful if family and friends don't deal with both the child and the parents in an understanding manner.

Being a grandparent, on the other hand, is not easy either. When grandparents picture the "ideal" grandson, they may conjure up a neatly dressed, polite, soft-spoken and quiet child who defers patiently to his elders and only needs to be told anything once.

Through no fault of his own and in spite of consistent and appropriate discipline on your part, your son and other children with ADHD will have a particularly difficult time matching that ideal. There may be an additional dynamic at work. Your parents may be sensing the concern you have about your son. They may be trying to change him to make things better for you, oblivious to the fact that they are just making the whole situation worse for him and for you.

We believe it is time for you and your parents to talk about your son and ADHD. He needs love and acceptance from his grandparents. Surely for them, like you, his future is of utmost importance.

If you have already tried talking with them, or if you think it would be too hard, you have a couple of other options. You can give them a pamphlet or book about ADHD. You might want to do that even before they arrive. You could call to discuss the situation with your pediatrician. He or she may offer to see your parents while they are in town to help them understand their grandson's behavior and to answer their questions about it. Your doctor could also recommend good reading materials for them.

Children with ADHD often have poor opinions of themselves, because they are so often considered "bad." Having their own grandparents conveying that message may be quite troublesome for them.

For that reason, we would consider the coming holiday an emergency. Holidays can be especially stressful for children with ADHD, because their usual routines may be interrupted. As far as you can, try to make your holiday plans fit your son, rather than expect your son to fit the holiday. You may even want to ask your doctor if you should continue his school day medication over this holiday, if you think it will make his time with his grandparents more positive.

At the very least, we hope you can talk this out with your parents. In this case, working on your own parent-child communication will improve the situation for your son.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

Pub Date: 11/19/96

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