It’s hard enough to have a child with special needs, but the challenges grow when you also have other children. The siblings of special-needs children have a set of needs all their own, and require just as much attention and understanding. Without these, copying behaviors can emerge. Knowing how to balance everyone’s needs will keep a child’s relationship with a special-needs brother or sister healthy and strong.
Explain the Double Standard
Most copying behavior comes from kids wanting the same attention that their special-needs siblings get. Children may wonder why they get disciplined for behaviors and actions, but their special-needs brother doesn’t. Without a firm understanding of the condition that makes the rules different, they’ll view him as mommy’s favorite because they are not allowed the same leeway. Explain that even though their brother will be disciplined in a different manner, the behaviors are still unacceptable. Go into as much detail as you can about their brother’s condition and what makes him special needs. Giving children this understanding from a young age is imperative in keeping relationships solid and helping children understand their individual and unique roles in the family.
Give One-on-One Time
When a family has a special-needs member, that person often requires extra care and love. Young siblings can feel left out, ignored or even unloved. Young children act out to get their parents’ attention, but the sister of an autistic child may not understand why you react differently to her screaming shrilly when told “no.” She expects to receive the same loving attention. To prevent acting out, schedule one-on-one time with your other children at least once a week. Make sure your time involves activities and conversations that have nothing to do with their sibling.
Your typical children need time and space where they are their own people, defined by themselves, not as so-and-so’s siblings. They may flourish in settings that promote their individuality and require teamwork, like Girl or Boy Scouts, sports teams and educational clubs. Just allowing them to visit their friends solo will help them maintain an image of who they are as a person, apart from their special-needs brother or sister. When they have a firm foundation of themselves, and are comfortable with who they are, they will be much less likely to copy the behavior of their sibling.
Enlist Sibling Help
What you don’t want is a situation where it’s you against your children, or you and your special-needs child against your other children. You’re all on the same team. If rivalry or jealousy pops up, it’s best to nip it in the bud as quickly as you can. Acknowledge the typical child’s feelings, show him understanding, and then enlist his help. Explain to him that he must protect his sister, even when he doesn’t particularly like her, that she’s going to have a more difficult time in the world, and it’s up to him and the rest of the family to prepare her for that. If your typical children understand the differences between them and their special-needs sibling, and they love and feel protective of that sibling, they will be less likely to copy her behavior because they’ll understand what it’s about. They’ll want to help you help her, not compete with her for your attention.