How to Support the Siblings of a Child with Special Needs
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Parents need to make the time to spend with each child individually, and think of each child's needs, feelings, strengths, and successes. Make time to ask the sibling of the child with special needs how he or she is feeling. And then listen to what your child says. Allow negative feelings to be expressed. Acknowledge these feelings and ask your child what will help him or her feel better.
If finding time each day is hard, do something small each day to remind a child how special he or she is: write a note and put it in a lunchbox, or for older kids, send a text message letting them know you are thinking of them, or plan a family meal.
One way to have the time to spend with your other children is to give the child with special needs an outlet to bond with other children with whom he/she can identify. This may be through a community center, school, or Family Resource Center.
It is important to explain to your children that their brother or sister has special challenges, and describe simply what these are. You should use language your children understand. Siblings, like parents, need to understand what the problem is and what to expect in the future. Let them know that you will work through things together.
Don't forget about you.
Finally, it is important as a parent to get the support you need from friends, families, or peers. Peer support is one way. That is when you talk to other parents who have a child with special needs. Another peer will not only relate to what you are going through, but can offer support without judging you. Peers can be your best source of help by linking you to community resources and services.
Myla Harrison, M.D., M.P.H., is medical director for the Bureau of Children, Youth and Families, part of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.