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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Helping A Neighbor's Child

12/20/2004

Question:

One of our neighbor's has a son who is just plain awful. Everyone in the neighborhood knows there is something wrong with this 6 year old. He is so wild, destructive, active, and out of control that most of the neighbor`s now avoid him because he has become steadily worse since about age 2. Some neighbor`s have broached the subject to the parents but the parents deny anything is wrong. The parents are not negletful and pay lots of attention to their children, so it isn`t a "blame the parents" type of thing. I have read enough child development books (I have a child with some learning disabilities/special needs) to know this child needs some help. We used to tolerate this child to some extent because we are pretty patient due to our own child`s issues. At this point I no longer want that child in my house or to be around him.

What can any of us do to convince the parents to seek help since it has been approached with denial?

Answer:

What a difficult emotional dilemma you find yourself in! It sounds like you would like very much to get help for a child who you and others find in great need. It also sounds like you see this boy's parents as caring and well-meaning but either in denial or unable to see what so many others are seeing.

First, this may or may not have anything to do with ADD/ADHD. I realize you did not say you thought it did but, since this is a place where questions are usually concerned about that, I wanted to be sure that was said.

Now, for the hard part. Much depends on what you mean when you say other adults have "broached the subject" with the parents and when you say that the parents "deny anything is wrong." If this child has truly been "destructive" and "out of control", and specific examples have been given to his parents that they have denied, that is quite different than if someone has said something to his parents like, "You know, your son seems kind of rambunctious. Have you ever thought about getting him tested for something like ADHD?" Denying the latter would be much different than pointedly denying that specific examples of destruction and inappropriate lack of control noted by several individuals were untrue.

It is possible that what you consider "out of control", his parents consider within the norm for six year olds. Right or wrong, if that is their belief, they will not want help to change it. Then it may be more of a question of making clear to his parents what your lines are---what you need from him---what you need them to direct him to do or not do regarding you or your family, in specific. We have the right to expect a six-year-old neighbor does not destroy anything of ours and, if s/he does, that the parent(s) take responsibility.

On the other hand, if it feels safe and appropriate, it may be best if whichever of the neighbors his parents are likely to trust the most could sit down with one his parents. Let's say, for the sake of writing, that person is you. You could describe how the positive you have seen in their son has slowly been getting lost to your and other's sight because of the kind of interactions he has with other children/adults/animals (you choose) on many different occassions. Then sight several specific, clear examples. Follow that with how much those of you who have discussed it admire how attentive his parents are. Perhaps it is their deep love that has made it difficult for them to see this?

I would also urge you to call his school ahead of time and speak with a counselor or principal. Let him/her know who you are calling about, that you realize that they cannot share information with you because you are just a concerned neighbor and not family, but that you are going to have a talk with his parent(s) about the boy and would like to give some suggestions at that talk of where they could go for help, if they choose to.

Keep in mind that it is extremely rare for children like this to not respond well to good, professional family-focused help. I say that because, when we are around such kids a lot, even the most empathetic of us can forget such things, and start feeling like "Gheesh, he's just a bad kid---a bad seed".. because it can begin to feel like that.

If they still do not respond to neighbor's concerns, then you have a real dilemma. You will need to share as much caring and positive reinforcement as you can with the boy while still protecting your own rights and the rights of your children. And if he continues to be problematic to an extreme, violating laws in any way, and his parents won't hear or believe it, you might need to involve authorities. Hopefully, things will never go near that far.

One final note: in many cities there are not-for-profit groups that do superb jobs at teaching Conflict Resolution techniques. In my city, Cincinnati, we have such a group. It is the Center for Peace Education. I placed their website at the bottom of this since they may be able to put you in contact with a similar group in your local area. Often, the most important part of the concerns you raise is how we go about dealing with them.

May this holiday season bring families, friends and neighbors closer together!

Related Resources:

Center for Peace Education

For more information:

Go to the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Susan Louisa Montauk, MD
Formerly Professor of Family Medicine
University of Cincinnati