Advice for Parents with Younger Children who have a Sibling with Special Needs.
by Suzanne Muench, MSS, LCSW, Sibshop Facilitator
1. Offer children choices about participating or not, in therapy and home sessions.
2. Give kids access to age appropriate information about their sibling's disability. In the absence of information, a child can unnecessarily create erroneous narratives and worry about what will happen to them, their siblings, and their family. These feelings can impact how they perceive their role in the family, and can help them develop coping skills.
3. Regardless of the child's insistence on caring for there sibling "forever", let them know that you and your family have a plan for future care needs. Let them know that you appreciate and welcome their involvement in developing the plan, but that it will not be their sole responsibility. This is especially important while children are still young and the thought of having to care for a sibling long term could influence their decisions about where to ego to college, what careers they choose, how they establish their own families, etc. Siblings may be very reluctant to tell parents that they do not want to take on this responsibility, or that their life choices are being made with these things in mind. Remind siblings that they are entitled to their own lives, and that an identity that is separate from being the siblings of someone with special needs. Let them know that this does not mean they love their siblings any less. In families with multiple siblings, you may find that the euro typical siblings may not have the same level of interest in their special needs siblings. Let them know that this is okay as well
4. Be honest with children about the fact that having a child with special needs can potentially lead families to feel a wide variety of complicated feelings, including sadness and grief, and that it does mean life may be different from what was anticipated when a new child is expected. Families that can have healthy discussions about these multidimensional levels of feelings can influence how kids cope with these emotions long into adulthood, and increase the chances that the children will be more honest when they can be supported in sharing a wide range of feelings.
5. Specifically plan activities with other siblings that are exclusive of the child with special needs. These times will be invaluable for parens and children. These are great times to catch up on what is important in the the lives of the other children, and help them develop identities outside of being the sibling os someone with special needs.
6. Consider a group for your child such as Sibshops (www.siblingsupport.org) where they can interact with others who are in similar situations. These are great ways for children wo connect with others who share similar experiences, and where they can express their feelings in a safe and healthy environment, all while having a space that is their own!