Parenting a child with special needs can be a physically and emotionally challenging experience and will most likely consume much of your time. If they have brothers or sisters, balancing your time will be even more difficult and can lead to siblings feeling neglected when you have to focus more on your child’s special needs. At the LIFE program, we asked some parents of kids with CP how they try to prevent feelings of neglect in their other children. Here were some of the parenting tips they had to offer:
One-on-One Time: Finding ways to spend a little alone time with each of your children is a great way to help them feel that they still have your attention. How you do this will look different for each child and for every family. Some examples parents gave were simply asking how their child’s day was after school, looking over homework, and making time to play toys for a little while.
Also, never being too far away from your other children while you’re focusing on one is an easier way to incorporate alone time with each child. It’s easier to keep tabs on everyone, including your child with special needs, and to switch your focus from one child to the next so that no one feels neglected. One-on-one time doesn’t mean you have to lock the other children away while you’re focusing on one. For example, when reading with one child, the others can be nearby playing and running around you two or listening in!
Consistent Rule Keeping: Another tip our parents suggested was keeping the rules consistent for everyone. Making sure your special needs child follows the same rules as their siblings is a good way to show everyone that they are on equal playing fields and prevents feelings of neglect.
Teaching Patience: It’s inevitable that you’ll get tied up taking care of one of your kids and can’t give any attention to the others. It’s ok to tell them to wait, including your child with special needs. Communicating why they have to wait (i.e. Your brother needs mommy right now, but your turn is next) helps them develop patience. Amanda, mother of 4 children including Maggie, who has CP, had this to say:
“This way they all know that the world doesn’t revolve around Maggie, her needs don’t always trump their needs.”
Communication: Even though you try your best to divide your time evenly between your kids, the reality is that your child with special needs will need more help with certain things and will require more attention from you. When your child reaches for the tried and true “It’s not fair,” response, try to explain why their special needs brother or sister’s situation isn’t fair either. Keep an open line of communication with your children and acknowledge their concerns. As they get older, try helping them understand their sibling’s condition. Siblings of kids with special needs have more of an opportunity to become very compassionate and empathetic individuals towards others and their differences.
Don’t Be Afraid to Go Places: Brothers and sisters of kids with special needs can become resentful for not being able to do things or go certain places because of their sibling’s condition. Try to accommodate for your special needs child as best you can so that the whole family does not have to shy away from certain experiences.
“The advice I would give to other parents is that it’s okay. It’s okay to tell your special needs child to wait. It’s ok to tell your other children to wait. It’s ok to take a break. And try to find ways to include everyone in things you do. Don’t let your child’s special needs hold you or him/her back from experiencing things. There’s no need to stay home, you can find ways to accommodate. For example, the park is one of the hardest places for me to go because I simply don’t have enough arms, hands or eyes. But when we do go, I sometimes go down the slide or swing with Maggie. At birthday parties with bounce houses, we either get in with her or let her bounce on her knees and roll around. Recently at a wedding, she had a ball dancing on high knees and sometimes being held to dance. You can let people know she’s there and they will watch their step. Invite people in. The more they know about your child, the more awareness spreads. Be approachable and allow people to ask questions. It’s much better than acting like your child doesn’t exist because they’re afraid of offending you. The more people know and the more comfortable they feel asking, the more understanding they can and will be.”
–Amanda Belcher, Maggie’s Mom
Do you have any other tips for parenting siblings of special needs children? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below! And please don’t forget to share this article with your friends and family!