This is Part 2 of our 10-Part blog series about the challenges and experiences of the siblings of kids with a diagnosis. Be sure to check back for future posts in the series.
As Jess expressed it in her blog post yesterday, growing up as a sibling of a child with disabilities is not always easy. Whether it is because their life is arranged around their sibling’s appointments, because they get bullied at school as a result of a sibling with a disability, or because they worry about their family’s well-being, we know that these children are at a greater risk of developing a range of emotional and behavioural problems than those raised with typically developing children. No matter whether these problems arise out of feelings of jealousy over the sibling being ‘allowed’ to misbehave when they’re not, or worry over their family’s situation, they are important to acknowledge. A recent study (Vermaes et al., 2013) showed that siblings of children with chronic health problems were at an increased risk of developing internalizing problems like anxiety and depression.
By now, you’re probably thinking ‘Well, that’s really the last thing I need to add on my plate!’. Thankfully though, there are some fairly simple ways to make things easier for your typically developing children-without you feeling even more overwhelmed than you already are:
- Be open about the unfairness of the situation. If your child’s disability is affecting the time and attention their siblings are getting, acknowledge that. The goal here is not to make the child with a disability feel bad for the situation, but rather to let the typically developing child know that you recognize they have needs too. [click to tweet]
- Create ‘special time’ with each child. ‘Special time’ is time dedicated from one parent alone with only one child. The time commitment here does not need to be particularly long: even only 5 minutes per day would suffice- as long as it is clear during that time that children will not be competing for your attention. [click to tweet]
- Let your typically developing child know that it’s okay to have negative feelings towards their siblings from time to time. What they are feeling is normal, and you do not love them any less because of it. [click to tweet]
- Make sure your child has a safe place to share these feelings. For those children who feel uncomfortable discussing their feelings with their parents, a sibling group may be helpful. It’s a great way to meet other youth going through similar things. Even if the time spent in the group isn’t always spent discussing the experience of having a sibling with a disability, it feels nice to know that others feel the same way you are and won’t judge you for it. [click to tweet]
- Sometimes, siblings need their own special time where they feel free to talk about their feelings with an adult outside the family. If the child is not experiencing severe difficulties, trying to set up a Big Brother or Big Sister might be a good idea. However, sometimes, professional help is needed. The important part is that your child finds someone they can connect and share their feelings with. [click to tweet]
Check back next Wednesday for How I learned about my brother’s autism diagnosis (Part 3) or as Jess would call it, the Donkey Conversation!