Supporting the Siblings of Children with Special Needs

To the Parent of a Child with Special Needs,

I know firsthand how challenging and overwhelming life can be when you have a child with special needs. I know about the tears and frustrations and the never-ending doctor visits, therapies, medications, and supplements. I know about the dietary restrictions and altered lifestyle, the awkward glances and the hurtful comments by those who do not understand.

No one will ever know how much you give and give in order to provide your child with the very best that you possibly can. You push forward with everything you’ve got, but sometimes, you wish you could just breathe, take one breath before going back under as the next wave hits.

When your child has special needs, you need to remember that you have special needs, too, Mama. I pray that you will tend to those needs and take care of yourself.

But you also have to keep something else in mind in the midst of it all.

Your other children also have special needs . . . and their needs must be tended as well.

It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to think that they’re okay. It’s easy to look the other way because the truth is, your child with special needs requires so much more of your time and energy. There’s so very little of you left at the end of the day.

But we mustn’t forget. We mustn’t just assume that they’re okay. We must never look away.

Our children need us to notice. Our children need us to pay attention. Our children need us to see their special needs as well.

Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Not Feel Safe

If your child with special needs struggles with behavioral issues, it can be very overwhelming on a sibling to process through all that is taking place. There may be yelling and rage, aggression, or extreme hyperactivity, all of which may make your other children feel unsafe.

Do you know if your children feel safe in your home? Have you ever asked them?

When children do not feel safe, they may react in negative ways. They may not know how to process through their emotions and struggles and may act out in defiance, jealousy, or anger. They may even begin to imitate the behaviors of their sibling, which could cause even more stress on the family.

If your child does not feel safe in your home, create a safe space. It could be her bedroom, a closet, or small room. Fill it with some of her favorite books, toys, journals, music, etc. and put a lock on the door if necessary. Spend some time with her in the safe space, and make it a positive place that she can go to when she feels overwhelmed or frightened.

And when she does go there, take note. You’ll want to make sure to reassure her once the “storm” has calmed and help her feel safe outside of her room once again. You’ll want to make sure to make the time to talk.

Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Need to Talk

When you’re busy tending to the needs of your child with special needs, it may be easy to ignore the child, who is quietly tending to himself. You may assume that the silence is a positive thing and may not feel the need to do anything more.

I encourage you to take time to talk with your child—especially when he has retreated.

Ask questions and listen. Try to understand what they’re experiencing, and help them process through their emotions.

Teach them how to pray and how to turn to God for peace and comfort. Teach them how to read the Bible for encouragement and understanding, and show them how to journal and express their emotions, and record their favorite Scriptures and positive quotes.

Consider creating an emotional scale of 0-10, 0 representing happiness and joy and 10 representing extreme, negative emotions. Ask them where they are on the scale, and then teach them how to stay under 7, so that they will not lose control of their emotions. Help them learn how to take charge of their emotional health.

If their struggles are greater than you can handle, consider providing additional support with counseling or play therapy. The emotional heath of all of our children is so very important, and making the time to talk will help you better gauge when your children need a helping hand.

Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Need Your Patience

You may be the most patient of people, but when you have a child with special needs, even your best of intentions may go astray if you’re pushed too far. Sadly, it’s often the siblings that take the hit.

It’s the siblings that asked for that extra 10 minutes at the park, or the siblings, who decided that they just couldn’t take it anymore and slammed the door. It may be the siblings, who decided to act out, and there wasn’t anything left in you to calmly address their concerns.

It may not be a huge offense, but it’s just as tragic as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It may be just enough to send you over, and it may be just enough to break them, too.

Your children may need your patience, and the reality is that no one can give it to them except for you.

So, how do you give what you don’t have?

Abide in Christ, and find your rest in Him. Pray for your children and ask to see them as God sees them. Sometimes, it simply takes a change in perspective to open your eyes to what is truly taking place.

Then, eliminate stressors. When we lose our patience with those we love, it is often because we have too much on our plates. Have you added too many things to your calendar? Too many extra-curricular activities? Appointments? Commitments?

What needs to go?

You may need to find new rhythms for this season in order to best meet the needs of all your children. Eliminating extras may be what is necessary to focus on what is most important now.

Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Need Your Attention

Have you ever stopped to think about how much time you spend enjoying your children? And by, children, I mean all of them. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget to enjoy the journey.

Your children need to see what it looks like to have joy in the midst of suffering, love in the midst of pain.

Laugh, Sweet Mama. Make time for laughter. Tell jokes, sing songs, or dance. Play music. Go for walks, or simply sit outside and gaze at the stars. Play games, bake something, or just lie on the bed and talk.

Share your victories and shortcomings. Discuss your favorite books. Pray together. Pray for one another. Come together as a family.

We live in a time when there are literally a million different things vying for our attention at any given time. We have the whole world at our fingertips, and I know how very tempting it can be to “check out” when it gets too hard. I know how easy it can be to simply “scroll away” in the name of “me-time” in order to numb ourselves and not face our reality.

Friend, put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Being plugged in does not connect you with what matters most. There is nothing as important as your family and children. Give them your full and undivided attention.

And enjoy every minute of it.

Final Thoughts

Living with a child with special needs can often create challenges, but these challenges also offer the opportunity for growth and connection. These challenges can provide the means to unite as a family and focus on the little victories and the things that matter most.

Making the effort to create a safe home for conversation, love, and joy is well worth it all. For when you are able to step back and truly see the needs of all your children, then you can better meet them where they are.

And as you do that, you pave the way for them to do the same.

What has helped you support the siblings in your own home?

Please share below.