Tips for Supporting Siblings of Children with Additional Needs

The sibling relationship is often the longest and most enduring in any person’s life. As with all siblings, warmth and affection can be very strong, positive and enduring features for siblings who have a brother or sister with a disability. Likewise, for some, there can be times when resentment, frustration and even conflict are part of the sibling relationship. When older, many siblings will attribute their personal characteristics of empathy, patience, acceptance and independence to having a sibling with a disability.

For parents, juggling and trying to get the right balance between the demands of supporting their child with a disability and giving time and attention to their other children can be challenging at times.

Here are some tips that might help:

  • When possible, arrange regular one to one time with each of your children. A few minutes each day will go a long way. Use this time to tune in and listen to your child. When needed, encourage your child to be open and honest about how they feel towards their sibling with special needs. Acknowledge the negative feelings as well as the positive ones.

  • Support your child’s relationship with their sibling with special needs. You can do this by finding fun activities they can do together, or you can do as a family.

  • Talk to them about their sibling’s special needs or disability in an age appropriate way. Support them to know how to talk about this with other people or explain it to their peers. This should be an ongoing conversation. Support your child to feel comfortable to ask you questions when something arises for them.

  • Don’t let them take on too many responsibilities in relation to caring for their sibling. Encourage them to spend time with their own friends and support them to pursue their hobbies and interests.

  • Praise their strengths. When you see them displaying traits such as kindness or understanding, acknowledge that you see this and let them know that you’re proud of them.

  • As they get older, discuss future planning and options for their sibling with special needs with them. Reassure them that you do not expect them to take over the role of caregiver. Discuss how they can live independent lives while staying connected to each other.

  • If further support is required, contact you CDNT to see if they run a Sibshop or a Teen Sibshops Programme. Sibshops is a programme for brothers and sisters of children with special needs. This programme may be available to siblings aged 7-12 years. Teen Sibshops may be available for siblings aged 13-18 years.

Further resources

The Sibling Support Project

YoungSibs - Sibs