“It’s hard being the only sibling to my visually impaired younger brother,” a friend of mine, Tayo, once said during one of our conversations. “Why is that?” I asked. “Well, because you’re often treated like a lesser cousin and not an actual child by your own parents.” Came her pained response.
Likewise, there is a high possibility that siblings in special needs families feel a similar way to Tayo. This article is centered on the ways adults may support siblings who don’t have special needs but regardless, require love and sensitive attention. Below are the means in which these can be achieved.
Specially create time
Time is so important. Once spent, can’t be regained. Create time outside of the “around the clock” care of a special needs child for the other child(ren). A sitter with adequate knowledge about the care of a special needs child(ren) can be brought to help. This frees time to go see a movie, talk about what’s going on the other child’s life, make dinner together.
The point is, be present for your other child(ren) so they don’t feel left out.
Don’t withhold information
A lot of parents don’t like to share. Especially when they believe it wouldn’t be of benefit to the other party. This is not fair to siblings in families of children with special needs. They, more than anyone else, should be kept abreast of developments with their sibling(s), at least within the scope of information that is appropriate for their age. Allow the sibling(s) come along for hospital appointments (when it’s convenient), care groups, etc. Explain complex words and online searches they may bring to you. This increases their empathy and offers a better understanding of their sibling(s).
Offer validation and spread the support
Siblings in such families need to feel validated. They should feel that their achievements, struggles, emotions, and help are valid. Validation goes a long way in boosting self esteem and confidence. “You did well today caring for your brother/sister, well-done,” or “you got an A, that’s my son/daughter!” These nuggets of positive reinforcement can make siblings in such families feel loved and even improve their closeness to the other child.
Most children with special needs siblings tend not to get enough attention, and having to compete with parental care and attention can cause resentment between kids or even towards the parents, so criticize each kid gently and equally. Destructive criticism, as I like to call it, does just as its name implies, it destroys. Screaming at a child without telling him/her what they did wrong and how they can remedy it doesn’t help at all. While it’s understandable that parents have a lot on their plates and it can get overwhelming, they can try as much as possible not to allow their frustrations spill on the other siblings. Also, don’t get so carried away by praising the child with special needs that you neglect the other child(ren).
Are you a parent with an amazing special kid? How have you been able to take care of the attention gap between siblings?
Do you have a sibling with special needs? What are your thoughts?