When a child has a sibling with a disability, the sibling dynamic is affected in many ways. Some sibling interactions are positive and some are more challenging. Trying to divide your time between all of your children equally can be very hard, especially when the child with a disability has complex needs. Some children need 24/7 care which can really put a strain on sibling and parent bonds.
It’s important to recognize and understand that the disability affects all of your children. But along with the challenges, there are also some positive effects of growing up with a sibling who has a disability.
Challenges of having a sibling with a disability
- Embarrassment over how peers will react to the physical appearance or behavior of the sibling with a disability
- Jealousy over the amount of time and attention the sibling with a disability gets from the parents
- Resentment over having to be a caregiver to their sibling with a disability
Benefits of having a sibling with a disability
- A greater level of maturity
- Better understanding of social behaviors, such as empathy and generosity
- A greater acceptance of diversity among people
There are a number of things you can do to help the sibling of a child with a disability:
Take them on Mommy/Daddy dates—Set aside time for each child where they do not have to share your attention with their sibling with a disability. This can be an outing for ice cream or arts and crafts time at home.
Let younger siblings help—Younger siblings often take great pride in being “big helpers". Ask them to bring you supplies (diapers, wipes, bottles, equipment), show them how to start the feeding pump, or have them read a story to their sibling.
Get older siblings involved on their own terms—Offer older siblings the choice to help and be open to their suggestions. Older children might like to observe therapy sessions and will often become cheerleaders for their younger siblings with disabilities. Honoring their choice of how to be involved will strengthen the bond between siblings.
Learn about SibShops from the Sibling Support Project. These national workshops are designed for siblings of children with disabilities. They allow siblings to connect with others who understand and share their experience. Their search tool will help you Find a SibShop Near You.
Be sure to check out What Siblings Would Like Parents and Service Providers to Know, also from the Sibling Support Project.
Two other articles you might find helpful are What About Me: Support for the Siblings of Disabled Children, and When a Sibling Is Disabled, both from PsychCentral.