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Multi-child families that include a special needs child often feature overwhelmed parents who are stretched thin in the area of attention -- attention to their health, their relationships, and to the typical children. Because disorders can present in ever-changing ways, constant attention is a must, and in a family with typical siblings the balance is normally skewed towards the dependent child. The need for attention does not only weigh heavily on the parent but also the sibling(s) who wants to be involved and may be feeling frustrated because they don't know how to. However, there are some methods of addressing those needs and making everyone feel included.
Invite your children to have a family discussion to address what is going on. Answer any questions that they have about the nature of their special sibling's health, behaviors, or needs; include them in treatment and interventions; and assure them that they are loved and appreciated just as much. Be honest and respect their feelings; they will appreciate it.
Encourage your child(ren) to choose an after-school or weekend activity that interests them. Once enrolled, make sure to schedule time to be there including picking them up/dropping them off, and attending games and recitals to support them in their endeavors. These activities will also allow your child(ren) to have positive outlets for the emotions that they may not be able to express verbally or appropriately.
This is very important for a number of reasons. First, it sets a precedent that says, "We are a family united, no matter what the circumstances." In addition, these experiences enhance positive behaviors and relationships, allow the family time to repair the hurts of the week and reconnect, model appropriate behaviors and teach social skills for special children, and boost connections between siblings and their parents. Remember, the great thing about family time is that you create it so it can be as often as you want, wherever you want and however you want. Make sure to include everyone!
It may be difficult to balance the attention that everyone wants to receive, but the importance is in making sure everyone knows that they are loved and are necessary to keeping your family strong.
Also see: How to Support the Siblings of a Child with Special Needs
Siblings of Children with Special Needs Have Unique Needs Themselves
A Parents' Guide to Special Needs
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