by Lanae Doiron
Siblings of a child with special needs have a unique role. While parents can't shield brothers and sisters from all the effects of disability, they can entrust them to God and His calling for them as special sibs.
Here are some ideas to help parents:
- Pray: for growth in specific character qualities as a result of the challenges the sibling faces. for the sibling's protection in areas where we fall short as parents, for a person who will give them attention and a safe place to share frustrations, and for a future spouse that will be accepting of the sibling with special needs.
- Educate adults in their lives about the issues siblings face, i.e. daycare providers, teachers or youth group leaders.
- Avoid projecting that the sibling should be angry or sad. Every child is different.
- Watch the compliant sibling that seems okay. He or she may be fine. Or, he or she may be an expert at not putting more burdens on Dad and Mom.
- Avoid downplaying the sibling's emotions such as anger. Acknowledge feelings.
- When a sibling is hurting and believing a lie such as "I'm not as important," model how to think through what is true.
- Admit when you make mistakes and apologize.
- Follow up with siblings after a disturbing incident such as a meltdown. Ask how they are doing.
- Encourage your child to keep a journal and/or write a journal to your child.
- Talk about all your kids in conversations, not just the special needs child.
- Spend time alone with siblings during times such as naptime or early bedtime for the disabled child, or on a date night (The Secret Keeper Girl, by Dannah Gresh has ideas).
- If someone can watch your special needs child, go on outings with the rest of the family.
- Have appropriate expectations and chores for the child with special needs.
- Respect your sibling's space and privacy. If necessary, put locks on bedroom doors to protect his things.
- Help your sibling get connected with other sibs through groups like Sib Shops (ARC) or Joni and Friends Family Retreats.