There is no doubt that parents face challenges when raising a child with special needs. But what about the special needs sibling?
If left unchecked… the lack of focus on your other children can leave them starving for attention and, as a result, could completely shift THEIR behavior pattern too. Maybe you can relate what happened in my family…
But dad, why does he hurt you?
Why does he hurt mommy?
Those were the words muttered by our seven-year-old daughter after her younger brother’s most recent meltdowns…
Our five-year-old son had just thrown an off-the-charts temper-tantrum because we asked him to clean up his toys. He had been physically aggressive, hitting, scratching, and pulling violently on my beard as I tried everything I could to calm him.
My daughter witnessed everything while she quietly cleaned up her toys… just as I had asked.
When it was all over, and my son was calm…
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I could see my daughter was emotionally shaken. She stared at her brother and then at me… eyes filled with uncertainty, confusion, sadness, and fear…
I realized at that moment, the struggles we faced with our son… impacted our little girl in ways, she was unable to process.
Too often… when us parents are in the throes of calming our child with special needs, their siblings get left to just “figure it out.”
After all, they’re being good. They’re doing what you asked. They aren’t the problem… right?
Ways to Provide Support for a Special Needs Sibling
Self-care is not only crucial for the parent but also for the siblings of a special needs child. Making sure that they practice self-care will ensure their own mental and physical health is taken care of. Here are some great ideas on How to teach your children about self care.
Self Care Activities for Siblings
- Enjoying nature
- Hanging out with friends
Engaging in activities that promote an active and healthy lifestyle allows their bodies to be more adaptable to the environment’s changes. Providing time for them to do things they enjoy allows them time to reflect and decrease stress that may build up over time.
Educating Special Needs Siblings
When a parent has a typical developing and an atypical developing child, it is essential to educate both on differences. When doing this, make sure to let them both know that they are unique and loved regardless of their abilities. Love is not measured by what one can or can’t do.
Education helps siblings understand and accept each other’s differences. Involve both siblings in the experience. Explain the disability and how it affects each child. Include:
- What the disability is
- How it “looks.”
- How it affects the special needs child.
The most important way to build a strong, positive, and healthy sibling relationship is to understand how differences and disabilities work. Allow them to spend time together to understand each other’s differences and accommodate the specific needs of the sibling.
Having siblings with differences allows for acceptance in the greater world. When siblings understand disabilities and differences, they go into the outside world, not seeing their peers as “different” or “strange.”
Listening to the Special Needs Sibling
Another useful method to help siblings understand and accept each other’s differences is listening to the special needs sibling and responding openly and honestly to her questions. When a child has never experienced something that is not “normal” to her, she has questions.
Allow your child to ask those questions and educate her about what’s occurring. Never leave her out in the dark. Answer the questions and explain the situation.
Help her to understand that her sibling is not defined by his label. And that having differences is acceptable.
Explain to your child that each day is different and that each situation is different. As a sibling to a brother or sister with special needs, change is going to happen. There will be good days and bad days. How they adapt to those changes allows them to see where their strengths and weaknesses are.
Learning how to adapt to the environment is not just a critical part of being in a family with a sibling with special needs. This is also a life skill needed to be successful.
Individual Time Together
The third useful method for supporting special needs siblings is to spend time with each child individually. This allows each child to know and understand that you love her fully. She needs to realize that regardless of events that occur in life, you will always love her.
Having that one on one time together allows the child to know that you, as the parent, love and respect her for who she is. This also shows that there is “no competition” between the siblings for time. Having individual time with each child ensures a healthy and happy relationship in the whole family.
Additional Resources for a Special Needs Sibling
Below are additional resources to help support your special needs siblings.
- Sibling Support Project
- Overcoming the Dangers of SPED Sibling’s Face
- How to Homeschool Multiple Children Effectively
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