Supporting a Sibling in a Special Needs Family: What You Can Do

Supporting a Sibling in a Special Needs Family: What You Can Do

 By Hilary Smith


As a parent, taking care and giving equal amounts of attention to each of your children is challenging,

especially if you have to focus on other things, including work and carrying out the day to day needs of

the household. Such a reality for parents who have a child with special needs is amplified, as the

challenge involves all of the former to-dos, as well as taking care of a child that needs more attention than

the rest.

The struggle is also real for the siblings of a child with special needs. With the parents taking care of the

emotional, mental and physical needs of the special needs child, the rest of the siblings can start to suffer

from a number of emotional issues ranging from guilt to jealousy.

Despite the struggles, there are ways siblings can feel supported in a house where the main attention

often lies on one particular individual, as the following points will prove.


Talk about it

Treat your child with respect no matter how young he or she may be and if they ask questions about their

sibling with special needs, be open to answering them in a manner that is appropriate for their age.

“Some siblings may not fully understand what is happening with their brother or sister. They may feel

guilty about it, that they somehow caused it. Or they may feel like they aren’t as important as their brother

or sister because they don’t get as much attention,” says Dr. Jill Emanuele, a clinical psychologist at the

Child Mind Institute. Explaining to them what is going on will help them build compassion, empathy, and

acceptance of their sibling with special needs.


Make time for them every day

Time is a huge concern all around for parents but for a family that has a child with special needs, the

difficulty is even more felt. Nevertheless, your other children need one-on-one attention as much as the

former. It doesn’t have to be hours, “as little as ten minutes a day can be enough to help siblings feel like

they’re truly valued.” Talk and listen to what they have to say, while you are putting them to bed or while

you are running a quick errand together. This is about finding a niche in the day when you can focus on

him or her, so they can feel like they are truly being cared for.


Don’t let them get away with bad behavior

Some siblings tend to indulge in bad behavior, especially if they know that it is the only way they will get

some attention from their parents. While you should not let them get a free pass on bad behavior because

you think your family situation is hard on them, you have to also give them attention when they do

something right. Appreciation and complimenting them for doing good is essential to building their

confidence and to reassure them that what they do is being noticed.


Don’t let them feel pressured

Sometimes siblings will “feel that they need to be perfect to give their parents a ‘normal’ counterpoint to

their abnormal brother or sister. Even when parents don’t expect it, these kids put pressure on

themselves to be good, to achieve, somehow to make up for the family’s sense of loss,” says Dr. Marie

Hartwell-Walker, a licensed psychologist, marriage and family counselor. By allowing them to be children

and reassuring them that they do not need to feel responsible for your happiness, by pressuring

themselves to do everything right, is a good starting point.


Try to treat them all the same

It’s hard because a child with special needs cannot be punished for certain things at times while the rest

of the siblings would be but treating all of your children the same is the goal you should aim for to create a

cohesive household where siblings don’t resent each other. This also goes for compliments given. The

sibling should be praised for doing something good as much as the one with special needs, so that the

former can feel valued in the home.


Spread the support around

Their issues and challenges may not be as evident as the one with special needs, nevertheless, all of

your children are facing difficulties in one form or another. Knowing what your child is struggling with is

the first step and this comes with point number two where you give your child attention every day to see

what is going on in their life. After that, being mindful of their challenges and helping them to feel

supported as much as your child with special needs is, will help to create a secure and loving household

for all of your children.


For more info like this, please visit All My Children’s blogs.


Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics. “


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