Helping your child cope
Talking to your child about his sibling’s disability can be helpful. Try to be reassuring and comforting, and stick to simple language your child can understand. You might like to do the following:
- Encourage your child to talk about his feelings. Let her know it’s OK to feel the way he does.
- Discuss the future. Let your child know what’s likely to happen to his sibling, and try to be both positive and realistic about the future.
- Encourage questions, and answer them honestly and in a way your child can understand. Likely questions include ‘Did I cause it?’, ‘Will I catch it?’ and ‘Will it go away?’
- Talk about how other people might react to your child’s sibling, and how that might make him feel. Help him figure out how to talk about his sibling and respond to other people’s reactions. Talk about how sometimes people say hurtful things because they don’t understand disability.
- Share information about the family situation with teachers, child care staff and other grown-ups your child might be involved with. This will help them deal with your child more sensitively.
Find ways for your family to celebrate the achievements of your child with disability. This helps your other children see their sibling more positively and develop feelings of pride.
Rules and responsibilities
Siblings of children with disability might feel that family rules and responsibilities are unfairly biased towards their sibling. You can acknowledge these feelings by doing the following:
- Explain how everyone has to do things they don’t want to do.
- Where possible, make rules fair for all children. For example, try not to accept aggressive or hurtful behaviour from your child with disability if you won’t accept it from your other children.
- Involve your child in making decisions about ways she can help, while making sure she still has time to do the things she wants to do.
- Make sure your child is old enough and able to take on any additional responsibilities you give her.
Caring for a sibling with disability
It’s a normal part of life for any child to help their brother or sister with things, and this also goes for children who have siblings with disability. But it can be useful to check occasionally on how much and what kind of care your typically developing child is taking on. The following questions might help:
‘Is what I’m asking my child to do reasonable for someone his age?
Some responsibilities – such as personal caregiving tasks, disciplining or supervising a sibling – might not be appropriate for your child.
‘Am I giving
my child a choice about how he helps care for his sibling?
For example, some children might want to be involved in teaching or helping a sibling with therapy, but others might not. Giving your child a choice about how he’
d like to help care for his brother or sister can also reduce any feelings of resentment he might have about the situation.
- ‘Can he handle the extra responsibility of caring for his sibling?’ Regularly check in with your child to see how he feels about his role, then be prepared to negotiate his responsibilities. There are certain times when your child might not be able to handle extra responsibilities, such as during exam time. There might also be times when he just needs a break from helping.
‘Does everyone in the family have jobs to do?
Making sure everyone in the family has a job to do, including your child with disability, can help reduce family tension.
Sometimes your child might feel like her only identity is being the sibling of a child with disability. She’ll really value any chances she gets just to be herself, so support her interests and social activities outside the family. Sometimes her sibling will need to be included, but make sure there are also times when she’s by herself.
It can also be a good idea to make sure there’s a space at home, or a time during the day, when your child won’t be disrupted by his sibling.
Keep an eye out for signs that your child isn’t coping, and for times when she needs your help. Occasionally ask her how she’s feeling – some children don’t want to burden others and will keep their concerns to themselves until asked.
Where to get support
Disability associations: these groups provide direct services, information, referrals and a support network.
Family and close friends: if your child has a special relationship with another grown-up, ask that person for help or advice. Family and friends can also help by supporting and listening to you, and by offering practical help. When you feel supported, you’re better able to support all your children.
Peer support groups (for siblings): these groups might operate through disability services or associations, local councils or young carer support services. Attending a peer support group might help your child better understand disability, improve his self-esteem, increase his social interactions, learn coping strategies and start to see his situation as normal.
: the professionals who help your child with disability are a good source of advice because they know your family, work with other families in similar situations, and have information about other services.
Respite care: if your child’s disability is affecting your family life, leaving her in capable hands for a while can really help you and your family. You can play with your other children, do chores you haven’t been able to do, meet up with friends or just take a break.
In this short video, mums and dads talk about how their typically developing children cope with having a sibling with a disability. Many of them note that their typically developing kids are more mature, self-sufficient, independent and organised. They bounce back when things don’t go well.
But these parents worry that their kids aren’t getting as much attention as their sibling with a disability. They talk about how important it is to make special time for their typically developing children.