Q: I have two grown children, both in college. My new husband has two children, 8 and 10. Even though I've been around them now for more than 4 years, I just can't seem to get used to the 8-year-old boy. He's very hyper — his mother has him on Ritalin. Everything he does gets on my nerves. I know that's a horrible thing to say, and I feel awful, but my kids are grown and I've gotten to a point in my life where I love that. I knew it would be an adjustment when we got married. My question is, "How do I cope?" What's good ex-etiquette?
A: Sounds as if your bonus son has an ADHD (attention deficient disorder) diagnosis. ADHD is a chronic condition that affects millions of children and often continues into adulthood. ADHD includes a combination of problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior. I would begin by reading as much as you can on the subject so you understand exactly what you're dealing with. This will help you prepare for what is ahead as the child gets older.
It has been said that hyperactivity may diminish as a child ages. If your bonus son is currently bouncing off the walls, he may need his medication adjusted. Before you go any further, I would suggest his father and mother ask a physician to review his son's medication to make sure that it's at the proper level.
Now to your question: How do you cope? Anyone who has married someone with children certainly understands how you feel. Although, intellectually we accept that children are part of the deal when we remarry, sometimes emotion doesn't follow intellect and it simply takes a little longer to bond with a child who is not biologically yours. Add a diagnosis like ADHD when you have no understanding of the child's motivation, and bonding can seem even more difficult for both of you. Good ex-etiquette suggests you do your best to learn as much as you can about what this child may be facing so everyone in the family can look forward to their time together.
Try to spend some time with him alone without his father so you can get to know him and he can get to know you.
All kids will push their limits. Make your boundaries clear, so there is no question as to what is acceptable when he is with you.
Monitor the chaos level of the house. If the dog's barking, the TV's blaring, the stereo's on, and the phone is ringing, you can bet he'll be bouncin'.
Positive reinforcement rather than negative discipline seems to work best. Children who are diagnosed with ADHD need lots of small successes.
Help him to find ways to channel that energy into something positive. Sticking to a schedule and journaling can help. (He's young for journaling, but it's something for the future.)
Keep him physically active. Although kids with ADHD love video games, games with a physical component may help that "hyper" factor.
Finally, this child will fare better if his upbringing is a communal effort. That means not only coordinating efforts with your husband, but also his mother. The more consistent it can be from house to house, the better. Get on the same page in terms of medication, schedules and positive reinforcement.
He needs your help and cooperation to flourish. That's good ex-etiquette.