Why do siblings need extra care?
When a child has a disability, it can impact the functioning of the whole family. It affects not only you, as parents, but also your other children. This is because siblings grow up sharing the same parents, culture, environment and household. Therefore, when one of their siblings has special needs or a disability, it can have a significant and long-lasting impact on them as well.
Using the strategies outlined in this article, we can make this impact a positive one that will shape your family for the better. With the techniques I have explained below, you can make sure that all of your children feel secure and supported and ensure that your child with special needs has a strong, lasting bond with their siblings. The whole family can then be in sync, tuned in to the needs of each other, and working together as a team to achieve your goals.
In this article, I cover:
- How disability in one of your children can affect their siblings
- How to identify if siblings need support with coping, and
- The strategies you can implement today to ensure their needs are met
How can siblings be negatively affected?
Siblings of children with special needs can experience a wide range of emotions. In my experience, these can run the gamut from resentment, anger, frustration, sadness, isolation, and loneliness to embarrassment, shame, concern, and worry.
Resentment, anger, and frustration can arise if they feel as if their sibling with special needs is occupying most of their parent’s time, attention, and energy, leaving little for them. They may also resent their sibling if they struggle to understand how their condition impacts their behavior and needs. Moreover, they may feel concerned and worried for their sibling with special needs. Siblings may feel embarrassment and shame if others are bullying them about their sibling’s special needs. They may also experience sadness, isolation, and loneliness from feeling socially isolated from their friends and their wider family or the condition’s social stigma.
Siblings of a child with a disability will also take cues from their parents’ feelings. They can be influenced by parental stress, depression, embarrassment, anxiety, and their parents’ emotional and financial burden.
Consequently, the above can manifest as increased levels of anxiety, depression, peer problems, and behavioral difficulties in them.
Can siblings be positively affected?
This is possible, and don’t let the above dishearten you. Siblings of children with special needs are often more caring, empathetic, and sensitive to others’ needs. They can be more mature, responsible, and tolerant of differences in other people. They can tend to look for positives in situations. These are all skills that are likely to serve them well in later life.
As is true of any experience, a family member’s special needs can change us for the better or, the worse. Therefore, it’s essential to implement simple, actionable strategies such as the ones below to ensure the change is for the better.
How to identify if siblings need extra support?
To identify if one of your other children need some extra care and support, there are some behaviors you need to be on the lookout for. Seek help if they are having difficulty with their sleep or appetite. Reach out for support if they have low-self esteem, behavioral challenges, or if they avoid interacting with their sibling with special needs.
What strategies can I implement to support my child’s siblings?
Consider implementing these strategies:
- Acknowledge their emotions and feelings.
Acknowledge their feelings as valid. Then, they feel they’re being heard. Please don’t get upset or try to force/encourage them to feel a certain way. Instead, allow them to feel comfortable opening up and being fully honest with their emotions and thoughts, without fear of disapproval or repercussions.
- Give clear and provide factual information about their sibling’s condition.
Don’t keep them in the dark, even if you feel that you don’t want to burden them. Instead, explain their unique needs or disability in simple terms. Describe how their sibling’s condition affects the way they think and behave. If they understand why their sibling acts the way they do, they are more likely to support their sibling’s particular needs.
- Don’t be embarrassed. Learn to explain the medical condition in simple terms.
Practice being open and share the difficulties you’re facing. If you’re embarrassed to talk about it, your other children will be too. When you show embarrassment, others are more likely to avoid you because they do not want to worsen your feelings. Being open allows you to build a support network around you and your family.
- Acknowledge, appreciate, and encourage siblings’ qualities and behaviours.
We all thrive when given positive feedback and appreciation for the good things we are doing. Catching your other children when they are good and praising them will make them feel secure and included. Remember, all beings need attention. It is a survival instinct. When one doesn’t get positive attention, one knowingly or unknowingly craves for this in negative ways.
- Give them their personal space.
All of your children should have a space they can retreat to for some ‘me’ time. You can also ensure that they have a healthy outlet to express their emotions, whether that’s a person or an activity.
- Respect their wishes about being involved with caregiving.
Ask if they would like to be involved with caregiving, but don’t force them if they don’t want to. Otherwise, this may unintentionally breed resentment towards their sibling with special needs.
- Give each child’ special time’ with you.
Think of an activity that you can do together and enjoy. Give all of your children one-on-one time with you, no matter how short. Doing so will ensure that they keep feeling loved and supported. Even if not very often, some 1-to-1 time with each child would help improve their bond with their sibling with special needs. Thus they are less likely to feel jealous or resentful of the attention and time your child with a disability needs if they receive some share of this.
- Strengthen the bond between your children through an activity they all love.
Additionally, you can strengthen the bond between siblings if you can come up with an activity or experience they all enjoy and can participate in. Such activity or experience can help them feel more connected with each other.
- Build a support system with your family, friends, and your child’s teachers.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but this is especially true in families where a child has special needs. Being open and reaching out to others and receiving their help and support would reduce your stress, allowing you to be an even more effective parent.
- Seek help from support groups.
There are special ‘peer support’ groups that can help your child’s siblings help cope with their situation and feelings. Participation in peer support would help them know that they’re not alone and that there are many others out there in similar situations. Parents can also benefit from support groups, whether in-person or online.
- Make time for yourself.
I know that this is easier said than done. With so many demands on your time, life can seem a constant juggling act. Be compassionate and kind to yourself. Have some positive self-talk. Notice even the littlest things that go well each day. Develop a problem-solving rather than problem-focused mindset.
Taking even 5-30 minutes a day to sit back, relax, have a hot drink, being mindful, meditate, exercise, or see some family or friends will do wonders for your well-being. Some ‘me’ time will give you that inner strength you need to take your family through life’s varied battles. When you’re taking care of yourself, you will be better placed to take care of others. You will then have the emotional energy and physical strength to cope and even conquer all the things life throws at you.
Where to go from here
I hope you found this article helpful and practical. In my decades of practice and personal experience, I have seen that these strategies, when implemented, will have superb outcomes for you and your family.
Underline, highlight, and mark the strategies you feel will be most applicable for you and your family. Below, I’ve given you some resources that you can access for more information and support. I would encourage you to check these out. Please remember that it is only ever gallant to reach out for help.
Take care of yourself until we meet again in my next article.
Sources of support: