The additional care needs of a disabled child can sometimes mean that siblings feel there’s not enough time for them. Family activities can be limited as parents juggle the needs of all the family. Here, Contact a Family – the national charity supporting families with disabled children whatever the disability – outlines some of the most common worries siblings experience and how parent-carers can tackle them.
By Karin Beeler, Contact A Family
Signs that a non-disabled sibling may need more help can include:
- Changes in behaviour after their brother or sister has a hospital stay.
- Asking questions about their brother or sister that you can’t answer, for example, ‘What if?’ questions.
- Get easily annoyed with their brother or sister.
- Avoid spending time with friends.
- Complaining more than usual or trying to get your attention.
- Finding it hard to get homework done or falling behind at school.
- Getting hurt by their brother or sister.
Non-disabled siblings seem to do best when the adults in their lives accept their brother or sister’s disability and clearly value them as an individual. Giving siblings the chance to talk things over can help them deal with the difficulties that are bound to crop up occasionally. The good news is that these challenges rarely stop the relationship siblings have with their disabled brother or sister being one of the most important in their lives. Contact a Family has worked with parent-carers to highlight some of the problems siblings experience and ways to respond to them:
Limited time and attention from parents
Sometimes put the needs of siblings first and let them choose what to do.
Arrange short-term care so you can attend important events with siblings, like sports days.
Set aside certain times to spend with them, for example, bedtime or a day trip once a month.
Confusion about their sibling’s disability or feelings of ‘why them, not me?’
Emphasise that no one is to blame for their brother or sister’s difficulties.
Encourage them to see the similarities they have with their sibling.
Meet other families with a disabled child so your children see disability as part of everyday life and not unique to their family.
Worrying about bringing friends home
Talk with your child about how they might explain their brother or sister’s disability to a friend.
Don’t expect siblings to always include the disabled child in their play or activities.
Guilt about being angry with their disabled brother or sister
Make it clear it’s OK to be angry sometimes.
Share some of your own mixed feelings at times.
Some siblings may prefer to talk to someone outside the family.
Parents’ top tips
1. Talk openly and honestly to siblings about their brother or sister’s disability or additional needs from an early age.
2. Make sure that your sibling child’s school knows what is happening at home.
3. Spend time each day with siblings one-to-one.
4. Acknowledge their negative feelings as well as positive ones.
5. Give them a choice about spending time with their brother or sister.
6. Talk to siblings in the teenage years about plans for the future.
7. Allow siblings to speak their mind, even if it’s difficult.
8. Don’t put pressure on your non-disabled children – don’t have too high expectations of siblings.
9. Limit the type and amount of care and support that siblings give.
10. Give siblings permission to enjoy and live their own life and celebrate their achievements.
Contact a Family has published a number of guides to help parents with disabled children including its Siblings Guide, available to download or parent carers can order their free copy by calling Contact a Family’s Freephone helpline on: 0808 808 3555. Parents can also call the helpline to talk to the charity’s helpline advisors for support, information and advice about any aspect of raising a disabled child. For more information including help with bullying, family relationships or finding a local support group visit: www.cafamily.org.uk
Karin Beeler is Information officer at Contact a Family