How to Support Siblings of Children with Special Needs
As a parent, you aim to treat all your children equally. But like most parents who have children with special needs know, that can sometimes seem harder than it sounds. Some children require more attention, and this can adversely affect their siblings. So how can you support all of your children without them feeling left out or behind?
Here are some ways you can support siblings of children with special needs:
Be proactive about siblings’ struggles
Many siblings of children with special needs hold in their struggles because they don’t want to add more stress to the family. Being strong for the family can take its toll on a child, causing emotional and even physical damage. Check in often with all your children about how they are feeling. Ask them if they are struggling with any issues inside and outside the family. Keep communication open and let them know you are always there for them.
Set aside one-on-one time together
Alone time with your children, especially in the beginning stages, is essential for building strong relationships. Young children might not fully understand why a sibling might need more of your attention, so set aside time for just the two of you to do something special together. Reassure them that they are “just as special to you” as their sibling is.
Talk openly about their sibling’s needs
Explaining honestly to your children about their sibling’s needs is a way to make them feel included in family discussions and help bring better awareness about specific needs or disabilities their brother or sister has. It will also help them prepare for talking with their peers about their sibling. Give them simple definitions and educate them about the disability with down-to-earth language they can use. Ask them if they have any questions about their sibling’s needs, and don’t be afraid to answer those tough questions.
Be prepared for sibling rivalry
Sibling rivalry occurs with all children, regardless of special needs or not. So don’t be surprised if there is some jealousy or acting out, especially with younger children. A great way to deal with jealousy is by allowing them to express how and why they are feeling jealous and use it as a learning opportunity. Give them special tasks or privileges that only they can perform to balance out their emotions.
Create a safe environment
You want all of your children to feel safe and secure in their own home, and sometimes this can be disrupted with those who have behavior challenges. Some siblings might feel responsible for keeping their brothers or sisters safe, which can cause stress and fear. Always ensure your children (with and without special needs) that everyone is safe and no one will be hurt. Sibling safety should always be a top concern for you as a parent.
Connect to or create a support system
A great way to help your child navigate what they are going through is with a support program. There are many support groups for siblings of children with special needs that allow them to connect with other kids who are going through the same situation at home. This will help reassure your child(ren) that they are not alone in how they’re feeling. And it’s a great way to meet new friends with similar family dynamics.
And most importantly, remember that all of your children are special and unique in their own ways. Recognizing their abilities and raising them as integral parts of the family with different roles is essential in creating a loving and understanding family.