Having a child with a disability is something that comes to life unexpectedly . It is a complex experience that requires a great adaptation, in addition to the elaboration of a duel of the expectations that, as parents, we had to have a healthy child or with no complications.
If we also have other children, in this case without disabilities, it is not always easy to manage the situation in such a way that everyone feels cared for and accompanied.
Therefore, it is an event that impacts the whole family; and the siblings of children with disabilities also need their place, to be able to express their emotions, concerns… and have moments with mom and dad alone. How to give them that place?
How to accompany siblings of children with disabilities
1. Give them spaces to express themselves
Siblings of children with disabilities experience a reality that most children their age do not; perhaps their brother came after them, or before.
Perhaps they are older, or not so much… But, either way, going through this experience is not easy for them either . That is why they need to be able to share their emotions, what worries them about the situation, their doubts… And we must be available to them.
2. Explain to them what their brother’s condition consists of
Children ask questions, have doubts, are curious, and need to know in order to understand and make decisions. It is important that you can clearly explain to them (and adapting the language to their age) what their brother’s condition, syndrome or disability consists of. Also so that they can be involved in the situation and among all, make a team.
There is no need to give them a thousand explanations, or offer them medical information that they cannot understand. Just the information they need to know ; This will depend on each situation and family, but perhaps we should explain to them how some things can change, while others will remain the same…
And they must be able to ask questions openly. Of course, the ideal is that you have this conversation in a quiet moment and that you focus it naturally.
3. Reserve moments just for them
Although it is very good for the siblings of children with disabilities to get along (sibling time is also important), and to share time as a family, the truth is that they also need moments just for themselves, with mom and dad. Just like his brothers.
And it is normal for this to be difficult to carry out , especially at a logistical and family level, since having a child with a disability requires a lot of attention and involvement. We must find the moment.
For what we are discussing, try to find some activity, some plan and some time during the week, to be with them alone, talking about things that have nothing to do with their brother’s situation (there will be times for this, equally necessary ). They need to have their place.
4. Respect their space and understand their situation too
Just as it is important that they have moments alone with mom and dad, they should also have moments to themselves. We respect and encourage your independence. In fact, they need it just like any other child. They will need moments to play alone, to go out with their friends when they are teenagers…
And on the other hand, it is normal that their brother’s disability situation affects them psychologically; We must have patience and understand that sometimes they will have moments of anger, of sadness… that we may not attribute to anything in particular, but that may have to do with the situation.
5. Share family moments
And in the same way, it will be necessary and beneficial for them to share family moments, with inclusive activities where everyone can participate. It is a way of cultivating the bond between brothers and also of working on inclusion, learning all the richness that diversity brings.
6. Normalize disability
It is not about downplaying the situation (it is important to validate what each one feels and be empathetic), but to normalize disability as something that will be part of family life.
Integrate it as something else in the family, give it its place, make it visible and talk about it as just another topic. Above all, that it does not become a taboo subject . It is clear that there will be adaptations to be made in this new situation, but surely they can be done progressively and by working as a team, as a family.
7. Help them manage the issue with other people
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of ignorance, discrimination and significant stigma associated with disability in the society in which we live.
For this reason, our children will surely encounter unpleasant situations with other children, and in general with people who are not family members, who may make inappropriate comments or inappropriate questions, or who directly do not understand their sibling’s situation.
Little by little they will learn to deal with these situations, but it will not be easy and they also need their time; Let’s accompany them and give them tools (for example, offering alternatives on how to respond in situations like this).
And in addition, with all this, there will also be times when they may feel ashamed about the condition of their brother or sister with disabilities; and we should not judge them, but we should help them normalize the situation and value their brother with all his particularities, including strengths and points for improvement, as all children have.
8. Avoid holding them responsible
Finally, it is normal that the siblings of children with disabilities sometimes feel that they should play the role of “big brother” (more than in a normal situation). Sometimes they feel this way because they have been told, because they have heard it, because they are the ones who take responsibility…
Such an experience can make children mature faster, and it’s normal; but it is also essential to clarify what their role is , and never make them responsible for things that do not correspond to them. They have to be able to be themselves, have their own childhood and not take on tasks or roles that do not “touch” them due to their age and moment.