Today's guest post is from Amy K. Williams. Amy K. Williams is mother of two and a former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral issues. Parenting is her passion and she is especially involved in spreading the word about positive parenting techniques.
Siblings in a Special Needs Family
Relationships in families can be complicated, especially when siblings are involved. They are our first friends, confidants, partners in crime, and even our first enemies. Growing up in the same household allows siblings a unique chance to bond and forge relationships that are sometimes tricky to understand.
After all the fighting and backseat squabbles, siblings are bonded by shared life experiences that can unite people in very strong ways. Even though we might pick on our brothers and sisters, it’s nice knowing that they will always be there or have our back. Siblings relationships are precious and dicey, because occasionally real life interferes causing a few rough patches along the road. This is especially true in our families where one of the children has special needs.
The Needs Of Siblings of Kids With Special Needs
The reality of raising a child with special needs is that parents are often required to put in a little more one-on-one time or give attention towards meeting that child’s needs. Siblings often pick up on this and often develop feelings of resentment if they perceive a brother or sister is receiving all our attention. These very real emotions of sibling rivalry can be challenging for any parent, but can be especially taxing in a special needs family.
The brothers and sisters of a child who has special needs often are supportive and willing to help their sibling. However, there are times, just like in any other family, where jealousy might rear its ugly head. Siblings may surprise us and react in unpredictable ways if they are feeling one of the kids are receiving a lot of our attention and time.
“The siblings aren’t given as much attention, and they may not understand why,” said Dr. Jill Emanuele, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. ‘Why are Mom and Dad always worrying about Peter? Why aren’t they paying attention to me? What did I do?’ ”
Underlying competition for our attention can easily cause a rift between siblings and even resentment to develop toward parents. This can occur even in normally understanding and protective siblings- after all, it is a common occurrence among brothers and sisters. In the same breath, it is important to realize that a side effect of these feelings is that children tend to act up, hide their emotions, and even deliberately disobey parents.
Support Siblings With The Following Ideas:
Remember that children are still children. Sibling conflicts are natural parts of growing up and the age of child can impact how they process the situation. Younger kids typically react in outbursts and have difficulty understanding why their sibling receives extra attention. As they age, new worries develop. Now a child might begin to notice bullying at school, worry about the future of their sibling with special needs, and if the condition could possibly be inherited by their own offspring.
Openly discuss a child’s special needs and the needs of other family members. Talking will empower family members and help kids understand the situation. Children often will seek any form of attention if they are feeling neglected- positive or negative. Allowing everyone a voice will keep the lines of communication open to benefit everyone. Remember, knowledge is powerful.
Find a support group for siblings in a special needs family. Whether it is online or at the local community center you are offering the youngest family members a safe place to share their feelings with peers who can relate to the situation and experience. Check out the Sibling Support Project or turn to the Internet for additional resources for siblings.
Help a sibling find an activity of their own to become involved in. Allow children to choose a cause or sport they are passionate about. If they decide to try soccer or 4-H, these organizations allow children to develop their own identity and give a boost to their self-esteem.
Allow siblings to tackle chores and duties around the home. By allowing siblings to help the family will ultimately create a solid unit and provide ample opportunities for positive feedback on a regular basis.
Schedule dates with all the children. Caring for a child with special needs does require extra work and taking the time to schedule quality time is necessary to show all children they are valued. Even if you need to find a sitter or hire help, taking the time to bond individually with our kids is definitely worth the extra hassle.
What ways do you try to keep sibling rivalry at bay?