Ensuring Every Child Shines in a Family Touched by Disability, Mental Health Challenges or other Additional Needs
Balancing Act: Ensuring Every Child Shines in a Family Touched by Disability, Mental Health Challenges or other Additional Needs
In families where a child has a disability, mental health challenge, or other additional needs, one common concern is the unintentional sidelining of other siblings. The term "the invisible family member" often comes up in the therapy room and captures a sense of what the sibling feels when parents need to devote more time and attention to a child with additional needs and supports. In this article we'll explore some practical strategies to ensure that every child in the family feels seen, heard, and valued.
Acknowledge and Validate Feelings:
Siblings of children with disabilities or other additional needs may experience a range of emotions, from frustration to sadness and often feel they are on a ‘rollercoaster’ when it comes to their feelings. Open communication therefore is key. Encourage your children to express their feelings and assure them that their emotions are valid. Create a safe space where they can share their thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Dedicate One-on-One Time:
While caring for a child with additional needs may demand a significant portion of your time, it's important to also set aside specific moments for each of your children individually. Whether it's a weekly outing, a bedtime story, or a simple chat, this one-on-one time reinforces the unique bond between you and your child.
It's easy to get caught up in the challenges of caring for a child with additional needs and sometimes parents miss opportunities to celebrate the achievements of their other children. Whether it's a good grade, a sports accomplishment, or a personal milestone, recognising and applauding their successes reinforces their importance within the family dynamic.
Educate and Raise Awareness:
Sometimes, the feeling of being overlooked stems from a lack of understanding. By educating your children about their sibling's condition in an age-appropriate manner, it not only can foster empathy but can also dispel some misconceptions they may have about their siblings behaviours, demands and condition in general.
Involve the Whole Family:
Create family activities that cater to everyone's interests and abilities. This ensures that no child feels left out or unable to participate. Whether it's a game night, a weekend outing, or a family project, fostering an inclusive atmosphere promotes a sense of unity and belonging.
Seek External Support:
Caring for a child with additional needs can be overwhelming, and it's okay to ask for help. Reach out to friends, family, or support groups who understand your situation. By relieving some of the caregiving responsibilities, you can free up time to spend with your other children, reducing the risk of them feeling left out or ‘invisible’.
Encourage Peer Support:
If your other children are comfortable, encourage them to seek support from friends, teachers, or counsellors within their school setting. Sometimes, talking to someone outside the family can provide a fresh perspective and emotional outlet. Peer support can be particularly beneficial for older siblings navigating the complexities of adolescence.
Balancing the needs of a child with additional needs and their siblings, requires intentional effort, communication, and understanding. By acknowledging and addressing the concerns of all your children, you create a harmonious family environment where each member feels valued. Every child is unique, and their individual strengths and challenges contribute to the rich tapestry of the family as a whole.
If anything in the above article resonates with you and you feel that you or your child could benefit from talking to a professional counsellor/psychotherapist about their experience in the family unit where there is additonal challenges, please visit our services and therapists pages to see if there is anything we can do to help.