Having a sibling with special needs can be devastating to children.
Often parents and adults try to keep them protected from the situation, which usually only makes the children feel isolated.
The age of the healthy sibling can make the situation even more complicated – particularly if they are in that “I and Now” stage.
It can also be scary for children with siblings who are often in the hospital or have to have special tubes or shots.
Keeping the child without the special needs content can be like juggling rubber balls – things can get chaotic, but even if they drop they won’t break.
Here are some tips on how to help a child with a special needs sibling:
1. Make special time for the healthy sibling on a daily basis.
Have a sitter that comes to be with the special needs child or take turns with the other adults in the children’s lives.
Everyone wants to feel important and like they are the center of attention.
The special time will also give you and the child a chance to talk without concern of interruptions.
2. Keep everything out in the open.
Children have a magic sense that tells them when there is trouble.
If you try to hide a bad diagnosis or situation, they will figure it out – or make it worse by creating the scenario they THINK is going on.
3. Keep information age appropriate.
Communicate on the child’s level as much as possible.
See if the doctor or hospital may have age-appropriate books or information sheets.
If they don’t then you might be able to find some information over the internet.
4. The younger the healthy sibling then the harder it will be for them to understand the need to spend so much time and energy caring for the special needs sibling.
Find creative ways of helping them cope. Give them a job to help with the care.
Give them a patient of their own (in the form of a stuffed animal or doll).
Help them feel as much a part of the situation as you possibly can.
5. Give the healthy sibling a chance to talk with the doctor or health professional if they want to.
They may have questions or concerns that can only be answered by the doctor, and taking the time to let them ask the questions will help them feel more included.
6. Encourage the healthy siblings to strive and achieve all that they desire.
Support their games and activities by ensuring that you or another supporting adult are present at all the events (rotate out who attends if necessary).
The last thing you want is for the healthy child to feel guilty about his or her success.
It is a strain on anyone who is caring for a special needs child.
The healthy children in the family can also feel the pressure.
By (at least) occasionally putting the focus on the lives and needs of the healthy siblings, you will help them feel more included in the home life of the rest of the family.