Sibling Rivalry And Children With Special Needs

Sibling Rivalry and Children with Special Needs
Compiled by Bettie Antrim

Siblings of children with special needs often are impacted by the environment they are living. Siblings often do not understand why their special needs brother or sister is receiving so much extra attention. Families are faced with unexpected effects of the sibling’s feelings and emotions.

Siblings of children with special needs may:
• Feel alone or jealous
• Be overly helpful to get attention
• Feel guilty for not having to deal with a special need
• Feel resentful for having to care for their sibling
• Feel angry towards their special need sibling
• Feel embarrassed and/or bitter they have to include their sibling in social situations

In order to reduce these feelings of anger, embarrassment, guilt, and jealousy, communication within the family is key. Parents should initiate conversation about what specific special needs the child has and what that means for the family. Parents should ask how each of their children feels about the situation and validate those feelings, even if those feelings are negative.

Parents should expect their special needs child to take as much responsibility for herself as she can. Make sure that everyone in the house has chores to complete and try to reduce activities that create competition between siblings. Instead, have the siblings become one team together and have group projects or a common goal to reach together.

All children in the family need to have frequent alone time with their parents, even a few minutes each day. During this time the parents need to make sure that child knows she is special, unique and loved. Parents need to let their child know that she is appreciated and thank her for her understanding of her special needs sibling.

If a sibling of a special needs child becomes depressed or has anxiety, the child may need to see a counselor.

On the flip side, brothers and sisters of a special needs child cultivate characteristics such as maturity, tolerance, heightened social skills and pride in their family.
When Special Needs Spark Sibling Rivalry
Winter 2003-04 edition of Young and Healthy
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital