Helping Children Understand Their Siblings with Disabilities

Children sometimes lack information about a sibling’s disability, possibly because they’re too young and inexperienced to understand the problem. They may have fears, such as thinking they may get the disability or that they somehow caused the disability. In many cases siblings show compassion and acceptance.

The more your children learn and understand about their sibling, the easier it will be for them to accept him or her.

Sibling Reaction to a Disability

Children express their feelings in different ways than adults. When they experience negative feelings, siblings may behave in unacceptable ways to get attention, or they may withdraw altogether.

Helping Siblings Manage

The more your children learn and understand about their sibling, the easier it will be for them to accept him or her.

  • As soon as you understand the diagnosis of your child, explain it to your other children. Keep your explanation simple and answer their questions honestly.
  • If your child with a disability is in a special program, take your other children to visit.
  • You may find that your other children experience feelings of guilt, anger, embarrassment, resentment, and sadness. Talk with and listen to them often about how they feel. Show them by example how to express their feelings.
  • Talk to them honestly if they behave in unacceptable ways. Reassure them of your love for them. Show them acceptable methods of expressing their feelings and frustrations.
  • Give them room to be children. Sometimes you won’t like to hear the feelings they express and sometimes you may forget that many children go through periods of negative feelings toward each other as part of the growing process.
  • Look at things from their point of view. Remember how accepted you wanted to be when you were their age.
  • Teach your children how to handle embarrassing situations.
  • Be aware of the needs of all your children; for example, each child should have time alone with you.
  • Help the whole family look at the child with a disability as another important member of the family. The child is not a disabled child, but a child with a disability—he or she is a child first, a child of God.
  • If possible, introduce your children to other children who have a sibling with a disability.