Supporting siblings of children with disability
Relationships between siblings are some of the most influential of all human relationships. The relationship where one or more siblings has a disability brings a range of complexities that require understanding and support. It is important that the foundations these relationships are strong as children with disability often end up needing the long term support of their siblings.
Many children have a strong relationship with their brother or sister with a disability. While there may be positive growth, it is generally agreed that families who share their lives with a child with a disability experience unique challenges, and that such experiences may impact on the wellbeing of siblings. The higher care needs of their brother or sister often impacts on siblings directly, as well as through the added strain on their parents. Siblings often receive less attention from their parents due to the amount of time their parents need to spend supporting the child with disability. This can lead to withdrawal, resentment and social isolation.
Siblings of children with disabilities often supplement the carer role undertaken by their parents. Siblings may also have increased responsibilities in terms of housekeeping and may provide emotional support to their parents. This extra involvement at home can mean siblings become less engaged at school and in social activities. And require support for themselves to cope.
Siblings experience a range of emotions towards their brother or sister with a disability. These may include love, protectiveness, resentment, embarrassment, guilt, sadness or fear. It can be difficult for children to understand and manage these conflicting emotions, given their own level of emotional development and potential difficulties in communicating with their brother or sister.
The impacts on the wellbeing of siblings may include lower self-esteem, social isolation and a tendency to internalise emotional difficulties. These issues are exacerbated by the lack of availability of appropriate support services for siblings.
Talk about siblings about their feelings
It’s important to foster open communication about what is happening and how each member of the family is feeling. Let siblings know it’s okay to sometimes feel angry, upset or worried and that they can discuss their feelings with other family members or with someone independent from the family—such as a school counsellor or psychologist.
Equip siblings with information
Just like their parents and extended family, siblings will have lots of questions about their brother or sister. You can help them understand by providing them with age-appropriate information about the disability and what it might mean for the family’s everyday life. Having ways to explain the situation to their friends will help your child adjust and feel more comfortable about sharing this information.
Remember, our Firstchance educators and family workers are here to help. They can provide information to you for your children—including children with a disability and their siblings and friends—in a way they can understand.
Connect with a support network
This might include your extended family, community and friendship/carers groups, and disability or healthcare agencies like Firstchance. A robust support network can give you and your children practical help, emotional support and information about how to access additional professional help if needed. It can provide you with an opportunity to connect with other young carers/siblings who may be going through a similar journey to you.
Contact us to discuss our holistic support options for families, including our SibsRule group program .