By Heather Miller, LCSW – Nov. 5, 2019

Parents of a child with special needs have many to-do lists that involve various types of therapies and appointments throughout the week. With life already busy, the extra time commitment chips away at any free time that could be available. This not only impacts the parents but can equally impact the siblings of children with special needs. 

Typically children are quick to note anything they feel is unfair. A sibling who notices that a parent is often with the child with special needs may feel jealousy and resentment. For a parent already trying to balance so much, this additional reaction from a child can be difficult to process. 

Following are some suggestions for helping a sibling of a child with special needs understand the reasons behind what they may feel is unfair:

  • Educate the siblings about their brother or sister’s special needs using a strengths-based perspective. Focus on what the child can do and explain the idea that everyone is unique.  The age of the sibling needs to be taken into account when deciding how much information to share. Keep it age-appropriate and explain in a manner the child can understand.
  • Include the sibling in helping the child with special needs as they want to. Children are often the best teachers for each other. Giving the sibling a task to help their brother or sister complete will give them a sense of accomplishment and positive interaction with their sibling.
  • Look for common ground.  Search for activities that both children can enjoy. Even a short activity can be a great bonding experience for everyone.
  • Ensure the sibling has opportunities to do what they want to do.  Making a special effort to have time for the sibling to participate in an activity (solo or with friends) is important.  This allows them time to be their own person and develop their own interests. 
  • Validate the feelings of the sibling. According to Michigan Medicine, some common emotions a sibling may feel include embarrassment, guilt, jealousy, anger, and fear. Check in regularly with your child. Encourage your child to talk honestly about their feelings with you. Validating and normalizing these emotions will allow the conversation to then focus on coping skills for these emotions.

Siblings of children with special needs learn a lot from their sibling and vice versa. This relationship builds compassion, service, and problem-solving. No parent has the ability to split time perfectly even between children. Ensuring siblings feel appreciated, included, and equally special will continue to build this relationship.

If you have additional questions or concerns about a sibling of a child with special needs, reach out to your school’s Youth First School Social Worker or school counselor for additional resources and support.