How to Help Your Child Cope with Having a Sibling with Special Needs
Being the parent of a child with special needs and having one for a sibling are two completely different experiences. However, only one of you is responsible for being aware of the situation and properly managing it. You are still the parent of a typically developing child whose experience of growing up with a sibling with special needs will always be a part of their life.
As complicated as the matter sound, your ability to help this child will simply require you to answer these two important questions:
What does it feel like to be the sibling of a child with special needs?
Empathy is the perfect place to start, especially if you were never the sibling of a child with special needs. What does it feel like? For one, these children often feel as if they are expected to help care for their sibling on a regular basis. It doesn’t matter if the sibling is older or younger. As a parent who could always use support, it is natural to delegate to your other children. You may simply ask that your child pay attention to his or her sibling with special needs. Other children are asked to push wheelchairs, participate in therapy sessions, feed their siblings or help them get dressed. One day, they are told they will be expected to care for their sibling when you are no longer able to do so. If you do not begin with empathy, you will easily lose sight of the enormous pressure that these children feel.
What are some other feelings commonly experienced by children who have siblings with special needs? Many feel they must be perfect. After all, their parents have more on their plate than the other parents. They don’t want to be a burden. This can lead to an unwillingness to express their feelings. If resentment has begun to build up, which is common, the worst possible outcome will result from not being able to talk about it. The next thing you know, that child skips steps of development and is forced to grow up too quickly. Imagine the adult they will become, especially after a lifetime of witnessing the hate, intolerance and lack of acceptance that individuals with special needs have to face. What can you do?
What steps can I take to help my child cope with a special needs sibling?
Create a normal environment. Begin by talking openly about the situation. Don’t just explain. Let them ask questions. When they feel guilty or that they’ve somehow caused the situation, let them know that this is not the case and reassure them that you love them. If they feel they are not as important because they don’t get as much attention, listen and reassure them. When question and answer sessions are not required, you should still spread the support around. Never miss a chance for positive reinforcement.
Set aside time for each child. Attention is a hot commodity with children. Learn how to spread it around and you will achieve success. Give each child individual attention. It can be small amounts of time. On a regular basis, it will help that child feel loved and valued. Don’t just spread the love, however. Be fair with discipline. Don’t let guilt creep in or you will find yourself letting them get away with bad behavior or have whatever they want. You are still a parent at the end of the day. Make sure each child learns to be responsible for their decisions and any negative behavior.
The Gateway School an private special education school in New Jersey
Our Mission at The Gateway School is to help all of our special needs students with the learning, social, language, and behavioral support they deserve. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student to becoming the best they can while providing a safe and nurturing educational environment.
We would be more than happy to discuss your child’s specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.541.4400, or request a tour of The Gateway School located in Carteret New Jersey, just minutes off of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Chris Hoye, Principal-The Gateway School of Carteret, NJ
About RKS Associates
The Gateway School is part of special needs network of schools located in Monmouth, Middlesex and Ocean County New Jersey. Since 1980 the RKS Associates schools have been leaders in helping special needs helping students with various disabilities including autism, Down's syndrome, communication, learning, social, behavioral and emotional disabilities. The range of services RKS schools provide is academic instruction and speech, occupational and physical therapies. In addition to Life Skills, Technology, and a full complement of Support Services.