Caring for a child with special needs can be challenging and requires additional attention and resources. While there are numerous sources of support for parents, who are typically the primary caregivers of children with special needs, oftentimes siblings of these children might feel neglected. There are not as many resources catered to them, since most of the focus would be on their sibling.
TOUCH Parenting and TOUCH Special Needs Group share how parents can better support the siblings of children with special needs.
Acknowledge their emotions
Give them a safe space for support, and let them know that they can talk to you about what they might be feeling. Express understanding of the negative emotions they might feel, such as frustration or jealousy, and help them to process these emotions to find out why they feel this way. It is also important to reassure them that their sibling’s condition is not their fault.
Be open with them about their sibling’s condition
Explain their sibling’s condition to them openly, and position their sibling’s disability as part of their identity, that gives reason for certain of their character traits. Give them information on how to cope with their sibling’s behaviours that might occur as a result of their condition, and teach them how to handle it. One way is to clarify that certain actions like shouting or hitting things are not intentional, and urge them to continue to show their sibling care and try to calm them down, or to go to you (the parent) for help.
Spend time with them one-on-one
With most of parents’ time usually dedicated to taking care of the child with special needs, it is key that parents take the time to engage with their other children as well. Remind them that they are loved and do matter, even if extra attention has to be given to their sibling with special needs.
Celebrate their relationship (between siblings)
Encourage bonding between siblings by getting them to spend time together with feasible activities that take into consideration the disability of the child with special needs. Good activities would be ones where both siblings can serve and help one another, so that it is not always the other child serving the sibling with special needs. Parents can also act as a role model for their children by setting examples on how to bond and play with their sibling.
Involve children in caring for their siblings with special needs
Another way to strengthen the bond between siblings would be to involve them in the care of their sibling with special needs, by giving them age-appropriate tasks to help their sibling out. Examples of such tasks for younger children include helping to pass their sibling medicine or a cup of water. Even through such small actions, they can inculcate this habit of caring for their sibling from a young age, and build a strong bond from childhood.
Treat your children the same
While concessions are usually granted to the child with special needs because of their condition, parents should take note to treat all children as equally as possible, and build the concept that the sibling with special needs can still be a contributing member of the family. Tell your children to care for each other, even if caring might come in different forms for different children, such as telling the sibling with special needs to try not to shout or hit their sibling. In doing so, your children will feel more fairly treated, and see that understanding and patience goes both ways.
Through these various ways, parents of children with special needs will be able to support their other children as well, albeit in different ways, and are able to better care for their emotional and mental well-being. By implementing early intervention in your typically developing child to accept and care for their sibling with special needs from a young age, you can create a non-labelling community that accepts your child with special needs.
If you as a parent are in need of any additional support, be it social, financial, or otherwise, you can contact the social worker at the school which your child with special needs attends, or approach your nearby family service centre for assistance.
You may also contact TOUCH Parenting at [email protected] should you need someone to talk to about your parenting challenges.
TOUCH Parenting aims to strengthen parent-child relationships by providing parents with relevant parenting resources through every stage of their parenting journey. It conducts informative talks and workshops which empower parents with knowledge on preparing for and raising a new-born, navigating the digital age with their child, parent-child communication, and nurturing resilient children and youths. It is also appointed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development as the Parent Support Provider (PSP) for Primary and Secondary schools in Singapore.