Being a parent of a child with special needs can be hard. Not only do you have the expectations of typical everyday life, but you also have to throw in therapies, doctor's visits, and any number of other specialized services. This makes life tough for any parent of a child with special needs, but sometimes there are other people overlooked in the big scheme of things: brothers and sisters. While parents often receive support from therapists and other members of the community, siblings of kids with special needs are often left feeling ignored. For siblings of a child with special needs, life can be just as tough as is it is for the parents. Here are some tips to help out the wonderful kiddos that are siblings to those with special needs.

Remember how your kids might be feeling. Talk to them about their feelings and let them know you acknowledge and understand.

What they might be feeling/thinking:

  • Frustrated that their sibling can't do "normal" things
  • Angry that all the attention seems to be on their sibling
  • Feeling left out/denied of their own activities due to needs of their sibling
  • Feeling ignored when their sibling takes preference
  • Sad that they can't interact with their sibling the way other families can
  • Angry that they have to explain things about their sibling/how they take care of their sibling
  • Embarrassed about their sibling's needs or behaviors
  • Guilty about negative feelings they have about their siblings
  • Pressure to be/do what their sibling can't

Here are some easy tips to help with tough feelings and situations:

Engage siblings during therapy times. Siblings can be a therapist's greatest assets. Something as simple as rolling a ball or playing at the table can make both kiddos day and it lets siblings feel important by helping out in therapy.

Allow siblings some down time. Many parents don't realize how much help they receive from siblings throughout a day. Just like adults, siblings need some time to themselves. If it's been a tough day or there has been a rough situation, allow your kiddos to take some "me" time. This can be reading a book, talking to a friend, or just being alone in their room.

Have a friend group with siblings that also have special needs. So many siblings feel like no one understands what they go through. Having a friend group of other kids that have siblings with special needs gives them someone to talk to when it gets rough. They gain support from a peer during times they may not want to talk to a parent.

Make time for one on one time. Many kiddos feel like they are ignored in favor of their sibling with special needs. Try and make time, even just five minutes, that's "parent and me" time to talk about their day and how they're feeling.

Make sure your kiddos have their own activities, separate from their sibling. Having their own activities and lives is not a bad thing! Many kiddos feel guilty because they think their parents will disapprove if they enjoy something their sibling can't do. Let them know it's okay to enjoy different activities and that they SHOULD enjoy those activities. On the other hand, don't pressure your kiddos to "make-up" for what their siblings can't do.  

Plan family activities that don't always revolve around your child with special needs. This sounds "harsh" and "excluding", but I hear all the time how much a kid wants to do something, but are told, "Sorry, we can't do that. Your brother/sister wouldn't be able to, and would feel left out." I also see how devastated those children are after, while a parent may be to focused on their child with special needs to notice at the moment. The majority family activities should absolutely include and accommodate your child with special needs, but if you have a family member or friend that can help out, allow your kiddos some time doing activities they normally couldn't.

All in all, remember to acknowledge your kiddos feelings and talk them out. Remind your kiddos how much good they do for their sibling and how much they receive from their sibling:

  • How kind/compassionate they are with their sibling
  • How accepting they are of their siblings and others differences
  • How patient they are with their sibling
  • Most importantly how much their sibling loves them!

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