7 Ways to Support Siblings of Children with Special Healthcare Needs
Ann Spaine, LMHC | Mental Health Therapist, Mental Health Team Lead
Kelly Betsworth, LISW | Mental Health Therapist, Behavioral Health Manager
Written with insight from ChildServe’s Family Advisory Council
Having a child with special healthcare needs can be all-consuming for parents and caregivers. In the midst of the joy, there can also be hectic schedules, endless to-do lists and uncertainty about the future. For the siblings of children with special healthcare needs, the pressures of caregiving can be all-too familiar.
Siblings of a child with special healthcare needs are often the longest-lasting relationships in this child’s life and many will become their sibling’s caregiver at some point. These siblings report that throughout their lives, starting from a very young age, they have many of the same concerns that their parents have about their sibling. They experience a need for more information, concerns about the future, isolation, guilt, and the weight of caregiving demands. They also face issues that may be unique such as embarrassment, peer issues and pressure to achieve.
So, how can caregivers support the siblings of their child with special healthcare needs?
1. Take care of yourself. You can’t pour from an empty cup. Prioritizing yourself can help you give your best to your family and doesn’t need to be time-consuming. Read our blog post on self-care to find some ways to fill your cup and check out our blog post on goal setting for tips on creating a life you love.
2. Share factual information with children about their sibling with special healthcare needs. They can understand more than you might expect. Transparency and clear communication are fantastic ways to build trust and alleviate any guilt, fear or isolation they may be feeling.
3. Provide room for questions. Answer their questions honestly. If you don’t have the answer let them know by saying something like, “There are some things we don’t know just yet!”
4. Normalize a range of feelings. Share your joys and struggles with them. They may be experiencing similar feelings.
5. Make special time with each member of the family. Siblings of children with special healthcare needs may feel jealous of any extra time their sibling may have with you and other adults. Utilizing our Respite program is a wonderful way to get some extra time with your child(ren), while their sibling receives expert care.
6. Explore any misconceptions siblings may have. It is common for children to blame themselves or believe they had some part in their sibling’s diagnosis. Create a safe space for them to voice these concerns without feeling guilty and have honest conversations.
7. Sign up for Sibshops. Sibshops are opportunities for school-aged siblings of children with special healthcare, developmental and mental health needs to obtain peer support and education within a recreational context. They provide a safe setting for siblings to connect with other kids who “get it” for a few hours. Learn more about Sibshops at ChildServe.
ChildServe improves the health and well-being of more than 5,600 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.
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