As special needs children most often get more than their “share” of their parent’s attention, siblings of special needs kids also have their own special needs. Licensed marriage and family therapist Rachel Bernstein gives parents some tips for caring for siblings of special needs children.
Bernstein says, “Parents will sometimes feel a great amount of stress and guilt for the other sibling when they feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day to listen to the brother or the sister of the child with special needs or to take them to the different after school projects because they need to take the special needs to different specialists, etc.”
It is true that siblings of special needs children often feel angry at their sibling or jealous of the attention. Children might also become worried or scared for their special needs sibling, or there might be feelings of resentment or embarrassment. Additionally, some children might feel guilty that they can do things their siblings cannot.
Finding a licensed marriage and family therapist might be a great tool to help your children. These therapists can help you work on your marriage, and they also have the experience to work with individuals within your family, including your children. Bernstein says, “being able to see a therapist who has a human instinct and someone who can really be accepting of the fact that this is a challenge and it’s not what you expected” is an important factor.
Bernstein comments that trained marriage and family therapists “understands the challenges of having someone who you love who you might not be able to take care of in the way that you want to” and understands the specificities of having a sibling of a special needs child, who you’re not able to give as much attention to. Effective marriage and family therapists will also give you “some tools to help streamline things within the family system and within your own life, so that you feel like a much more effective parent.”
In addition to utilizing tools for effective parenting, also encourage your children’s use of each other as a resource. “For those siblings to be able to need each other is a great resource,” says Bernstein.
Also utilize resources for your child without special needs. For example, just because a special needs child cannot attend summer camp does not mean you should deny his sibling the opportunity. Plan ahead and find other activities in which your child can participate. Find resources within your community as well — don’t be afraid to ask for help, and let family and friends help. If you need to take your special needs child to the doctor, ask another parent to take his sibling to soccer practice.
For parents with limited resources within the community, turn to the Internet for blogs and other websites as a source of information and support. Bernstein says, “That can be very calming and reassuring, and it can also be a great source of comfort and learning because you hear from other parents — what they’ve tried, what has worked for them, and you can cultivate a whole system of parental education through that kind of communication, and I think that’s invaluable.”
For more information about Rachel Bernstein or to find a licensed MFT in California, visit Counseling California.