It is typical for a family that includes more than one child to see some sibling rivalry from time to time. What isn’t so typical is the amount of responsibility that kids who have a sibling that has special needs often feel is placed upon them. Here are a few tips to help your child cope with the special needs of his or her sibling.
As the oldest kid, I spent time helping my younger siblings with homework, with tying their shoes, and with other day to day activities. This isn’t unheard of or unusual. The difference was that my parents told me that one day I would “inherit” my brother, (who has Asperger’s Syndrome). I was expected to grow up to become his caretaker after my parents had passed on.
Most of the time, families who have a child that has special needs intentionally avoid making those kinds of statements, in order to prevent placing a burden on one of their children long before the child is old enough to take on that challenge. Often, though, the siblings of your child who has a special need intrinsically understand that there is a definite possibility that they will become the caretaker of their sibling one day. They can pick that up without it being said in so many words.
An article at Chicago Parent.com has some helpful advice for parents who want to help their child cope with his or her sibling’s special needs. One thing you can do is let your child know, very clearly, that you (the parent), are responsible for their sibling’s future, (and that they are not expected to take over the responsibility). Take that burden off their shoulders.
Another thing parents can do is get some support. It is common for parents to use their “healthy” child as a second caregiver. All families will encourage older kids to help out their younger siblings from time to time. However, parents who are relying on a child to do a heavy amount of caregiving for their sibling, on a regular basis, need to be careful. Caregiving is stressful, and may be more than young children are emotionally ready to take on. Hire a nurse, a babysitter, or other help.
It isn’t a bad idea to get your child who has no special needs into therapy. Give him or her a safe place where he or she can talk about the stress they feel as a result of being the sibling of a child who has special needs. Let your child express those emotions, fears, and frustrations with a professional therapist who will not be judgmental. The therapist may be able to teach your child coping mechanisms.
Image by Evelyn Saenz on Flickr