Parenting and caring for a child with special needs can be very challenging and time-consuming, but it’s equally as important to address the unique needs of your other children. Siblings of kids with special needs will be in your child’s life longer than anyone, and may even share similar concerns and challenges you encounter. Here are eight practical tips to help you support and encourage your other children:
1. Acknowledge that your child and his/her experiences are unique. Your child has a right to his or her own life. She has her own dreams, plans for the future, likes, and dislikes. Foster her talents and interests by providing opportunities for her to engage in sports, the arts, music, or other activities.
2. Acknowledge your child’s concerns. It’s important that you acknowledge the emotions and concerns he or she may be experiencing. Although as an adult and parent you may not fully understand him or relate to him, remind your child that you are there for him. Let him know that you want to help and talk over issues.
3. Dedicate time to your child. Having a child with special needs can take up a lot of your time and resources. Remember to set time aside to spend with your other children one-on-one and as a family. They need to know that they are valued through your actions, not just your words.
4. Provide a safe environment for all your children. If one of your children displays challenging behaviors at home, don’t place your other children in vulnerable situations. And if your child is being teased at school, address this matter with his teacher and a school administrator. Afterward, be sure to follow-up and watch out for signs of continued bullying. You are your child’s best advocate.
5. Provide opportunities to meet peers and make friends. Allow your child the opportunity to make friends with other siblings of special needs kids in addition to her existing friends. Nonprofits and local organizations host summer camps, family events, and programs for siblings that may be helpful to your child.
6. Keep your child informed about their sibling. With time, the needs of your special needs child may change. It’s important that her siblings understand her disability, individual needs, how they can help, and what they can expect for the future. In some cases, you may wish to seek professional help in dialoguing with your family, especially if your child has a life-threatening or terminal illness.
7. Address any negative feelings. Emphasize that no one is to blame for his sister’s illness or disability. Encourage him to see the similarities, rather than the differences. Don’t assume the negative feelings will pass with time, with age, or with greater familiarity with the disability. Make sure to check in regularly with him to see if these feelings are improving, worsening, or changing.
8. Reduce stress at home. Find ways to improve your marriage if it’s adding stress in the home. Keep a sense of humor even when you are under the pressures of caring for your family. Allow your child some distance if needed, such as a weekend at her grandparent’s house or some quiet time in her bedroom if things get too challenging at home.
Have you discovered any other tips that help you provide support to your children? Share them with us in the comments!
This is not an exhaustive list, and is not meant to serve as a diagnostic tool or replace the guidance of a doctor or mental health professional.