Supporting siblings

Taking care of other children in the family

Parenting can be stressful, particularly with the extra demands in having a child with a disability.

Different family members will respond in their own way to their emotions and any stress in the family.

Siblings (brothers/sisters) of a child with a disability often have more complicated home lives or are exposed to stress more frequently than many children of the same age.

Research about siblings of children with disabilities indicates that if they have appropriate support they can develop a range of positive qualities such as: resilience, compassion, and understanding of difference.

Siblings may feel a wide range of emotions in response to having a brother or sister with additional needs including:

  • confusion about disability
  • guilt
  • grief
  • fear
  • anger
  • jealousy
  • resentment
  • embarrassment

As a parent you may recognise that your other children need support, but it may be difficult to know how to respond to their feelings and questions. When you are dealing with your own strong emotions and learning about your child’s disability this can be even harder.

See supporting yourself as a parent for ideas to support yourself.

"It was hard especially at the beginning to know how to deal with what my daughter (without a disability) was feeling when my own feelings were so raw. Sometimes I just wished she would understand and be more patient with her little brother, but then she was only little too. It was also hard because my husband and I had very different ideas on how we should handle things. It was helpful to speak with a counsellor when things were tough to help us talk through problems."

Julie, mother of Chloe (8) and Brett (5)

How you can support your other child/ren

  • treat children as individuals
  • recognise and praise their strengths to build their sense of self and self-esteem
  • ensure they have opportunities to develop their own identity, interests and friendships outside of home

Think about:

  • How can I make sure my child has an opportunity to make and spend time with their own friends if they want to?
  • Would my child like to become involved in some community activities e.g. sport, music, drama, Cubs, Brownies etc?
  • Would they want to do this with/without their sibling with a disability?
  • talking and listening

Provide regular opportunities for your children without a disability to talk about their feelings and any questions or concerns they may have.

These may include:

  • need for accurate information about their brother or sister’s disability
  • feeling they get less attention from parents
  • perceived pressure to be perfect
  • no outlet for their emotions
  • additional responsibilities
  • social difficulties


There may be other trusted adults with whom your children may wish to share their emotions e.g. aunts, uncles, family friends, grandparents etc.

"I found that my younger son really needed a chance to say whatever it was he felt in relation to his older brother (with global developmental delay) even when it was negative. I had to help him find a place where he could express himself. Over time, we were able to help our older son to say what frustrated or worried him while still remaining respectful of his brother."

Kamli, mother of Abdul (4) and Ali (6)

Think about:

  • How comfortable is my child with talking about their brother or sister’s disability?
  • Would it help to talk at home about how they might like to answer any questions from other children about their brother or sister’s disability?
  • Would it help to schedule individual or one-on-one time with other children to reinforce their sense of value and place in the family?
  • make decisions about school options to suit the whole family

When families choose a school for their child with a disability, it is important to consider the possible impacts of your decision on your whole family, and in particular upon any siblings.

Whether your children attend the same school, or different schools, letting their teacher know they have a sibling with a disability is important. If the teacher is aware of what is happening at home, for example, disrupted sleep or inability to sometimes complete homework, they may be more understanding of your children’s needs.

Think about:

  • Is the school we are considering suitable for any other child/children in our family?
  • Would my children like to invite friends from school to our home?

  • remember siblings are still children

Think about:

  • How can I ensure my child does not have too many additional responsibilities in relation to their sibling with a disability?
  • How can I make sure that they have choices about how involved they would like to be?

Signs your child may benefit from additional support

If your child:

  • expresses strong emotions over a period of time
  • shows attention seeking behaviour at school and/or home
  • withdraws from usual activities and interactions

If you feel your child may benefit from support some resources include:

  • school counsellor - a referral can be arranged through the school principal
  • siblings support groups
  • fun activities designed especially for siblings of children with additional needs
  • online sibling networks

Links

Websites for siblings

Siblink
A website for primary school aged siblings. Includes games, information and space for siblings to share thoughts and hear how other siblings feel.

Young Carers NSW
A project of Carers NSW which aims to make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people who may help to support a family member who has a disability (or other needs). This includes a “young carers’ club” where members can chat and get news relating to young carers.

Websites, information and videos about supporting siblings for parents

Raising children network

Siblings Australia includes links to organisations in NSW who run specific groups, camps, workshops and activities for siblings of children with additional needs.

SIBS
A website that has useful siblings fact sheets and links to other siblings' websites.

Association of Children with a Disability
“Growing together” booklet