According to the Sibling Support Project, there are more than six million Americans with special physical, developmental or mental health issues. And most of them have typically developing siblings.
When one or more children in the family have special needs they consume a lot of the parents’ time and energy. In addition, modifications are often made to accommodate the child’s issues. So much attention is placed on the special needs child that parents often don’t realize the negative impact it has on the other children. Having a special needs sibling can create another subset of issues including anxiety and depression, so parents will need to be attentive to those needs, as well.
While many siblings are supportive of their special needs brother or sister, it’s important to understand how difficult it can sometimes be for them. For example, they may have a hard time concentrating on homework if little brother is slamming doors and screaming during a meltdown. Or, some of the joy may be taken from a special outing if big sister has an aversion to noisy crowds. Not to mention trying to explain little sis’s behavior to friends when she has an embarrassing outburst.
Sometimes children will try to fade into the background so as not to distract their parents’ attention away from their special needs sibling. Other children may misbehave and find negative ways to get their parents’ attention. Some go out of their way to be extra helpful and try to find favor with their parents. The reality is siblings are just as hungry for attention as the special needs child. Naturally, this can be challenging for parents who need to focus on the child with issues, so here are some tips on how to “share the love.”
Using appropriate language for the age of the sibling, explain what is going on with their brother or sister. Be prepared to answer any questions and listen to any concerns they may have. A younger child may feel guilty or resentful about their sibling’s issues and these discussions can help eliminate those worries.
Working with a special needs child can be emotionally and physically draining. However, it’s important to let the other children know their achievements are being noticed by you. Try to attend school, sports and church functions as much as possible. Find something positive to praise the other children for on a regular basis to keep negative behavior from popping up.
Give Undivided Attention
All kids need one-on-one time with their parents – especially children with special needs siblings. While it may be challenging to fit in a sliver of time each day, those little pockets of time can help children feel loved and cherished. Make “dates” with each child to do something special like getting some frozen yogurt or going to the park.
Treat All Siblings the Same
Many parents feel guilty about their other children who are not getting the same level of attention of their special needs child, so they will overcompensate with expensive gifts or allow them to get away with negative behavior. However, this is a disservice to the other children because it doesn’t teach them how to be responsible or let them know there are consequences for bad conduct.
Seek Outside Help
If you are concerned about creating a healthy balance within your family, consult with a mental health professional who can help bring harmony and stability into the family unit, while assessing and addressing everyone’s special needs.