Healthy Kids     K-12    

5 tips for parents of kids with special needs

Of all the emotional heartbreak parents of children with special needs are asked to face, none stings more than knowing a sibling's life could have been easier. Through no fault of their own, siblings must cope with the loss of a simpler, more typical family life.

They often go without regular family outings and vacations. They may be afraid their siblings will embarrass them in front of their peers. They often wonder how special needs in the family will affect their own life, future plans and responsibilities - concerns that may go unanswered by parents.

Special needs advocate and award-winning journalist Judy Winter, the author of "Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations," offers some advice on meeting the needs of siblings:

  • Make one-on-one time with the child without a disability a priority. If that requires getting a sitter or respite care, do so. Siblings deserve your full attention, too. This kind of parenting effort can help your child make it through tough family moments, when special needs is especially demanding of your time and attention. Find time in your daily routine for alone time.


  • Encourage siblings to express their honest feelings about their role in the family. Siblings may hold back powerful emotions to avoid adding stress to already stressed families, or because they feel guilty about having negative feelings about their siblings. Let your child know their feelings are normal - and it's okay to talk about and express them. Discuss some healthy ways they can release their feelings.


  • Encourage your children to keep journals. Then honor their privacy!


  • If despite your best efforts, your child has a hard time coping with his/her role, seek professional help. The special needs sibling role can challenge the most well-adjusted child and the best families. There is no shame in asking for help - get past that limiting belief!


  • See your family's special challenges as a chance to model positive problem-solving for your children. Children with brothers and sisters with special needs often display a maturity and sensitivity beyond their years, which can serve them well in other challenging situations - help your children understand the important future benefits of their role.

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