“Put on your shoes.”
Before kids, I never imagined a straightforward request yielding contrary behavior.
It might as well be code for insult your sibling, pet the cat, and it’s time to take a dump.
In my family with kids with special needs, meltdowns occur more often at departure time.
This transition causes emotional disregulation. It doesn’t matter where we are going. It could be the grocery store, church, or the amusement park.
Most of the time we wait a few minutes for the chaos to subdue.
But sometimes the outbursts are like a supernova.
We cancel our plans. Instead of going to the park, I aid the child who is out of control.
The other children pay the consequences for their siblings’ behavior. The anticipatory smiles fade. Their eyes downcast and an uncomfortable silence passes over them as they fumble to remove their shoes.
I often solo parent, and this is a fact of life for us.
The Guilt. My other children suffer for the challenges of their sibling.
There are blessings from loving a sibling with special needs, but let’s not deny reality. It’s hard for them too.
You may have less money for special activities because therapy consumes your budget. You may have less time because your child requires extra care. The mom you used to be or imagined you would be evaporated under the pressure of raising your child with extraordinary needs, and this life stole the better mom.
This is not fair, and they deserve better.
You would never in a million years give up on your struggling child.
But your other kids long for you. They need your attention too.
I wish I could send you a fairy godmother. With a wave of her wand, sparkling fairy dust would extinguish all the crappy parts of your child’s special needs, and all the good parts remain.
I can’t take away the heartache. But we can give our other children our peaceful, undivided attention, so they feel valued.
You need to think outside the box to give your other kids the mom and stability they deserve.
Here are ideas that I use with success in our home. It’s not perfect, but it works for us. Try out one and see the changes for the good in your family.
How to Give Your Other Children the Attention they Need
1. Use a babysitter, relative, or respite care to regularly watch your child with extra needs.
I find it best to have my child stay at the relative’s house or have them go out to the park. This enables your other children to experience a more quiet and peaceful home. Get over the feeling that your are neglecting your child with special needs. Your other children have given up a lot of their time already while you give your child with special needs extra care. It is not like we never go out as an entire family, but there needs to be some periods of time when your other children experience emotional stabilty and your undivided attention.
2. During school breaks, enroll your child with special needs in camp.
There are camps specifically designed for special needs, but my child thrives more with camps for regularly developing children. Keep your other children out of camp for this period of time and enjoy special outings with them. Go to places your high needs child would not enjoy or be able to cope with well.
3. Use screen time without guilt.
One of my children has a hard time with separation anxiety. Playing alone is difficult and playing with siblings requires constant supervision. Yes, it would be better if my child played Lego or built a puzzle independently rather than watch TV, but it can be hard to spend time reading to another child, helping a child get ready for the day, or assist a child with chores without this child demanding attention. But given this child’s extra needs, independent play is difficult. Screen time relaxes my child, and allows me to give my other children undivided attention. In our family, I schedule screen time, and it works.
4. Let a child stay up past bedtime.
One of my children is extremely introverted. She thrives on quiet. She cannot have quiet time with me without the noise of siblings bothering her. Since she doesn’t need to go to bed as early as her siblings, she stays up for an hour with me. We spend time with the dogs and watch TV. Since I started this nightly chill out time with her, her mood improved dramatically.
5. Once in awhile, take a mental health break from school.
A couple of times each school year, I pull out each child for a few hours of special time with me. We go out to lunch and shop for clothes.
These strategies have allowed my kids to experience a relationship with me and each other that is not threatened to be ruined by another sibling’s high needs.
The gift of special, stress free time is given to all my children.
It allows us to to see each other in a light not clouded by another child’s demands. It shows them that I think they are special and important.
It would be nice if we had a Fairy Godmother to magically put on our kids’ shoes and transform our lives to a fairy tale.
We have a life that leaves our children’s hearts brushed with cinders and ashes.
You are the one with the power to give your children moments untarnished by the negative parts of special needs family life. They will see themselves as your prince or princess in your eyes. You hold the power to sprinkle fairy dust over their hearts.
They matter to you.
More Thoughts on Siblings and Special Needs
Watch this powerful TedX talk about Glass Children, and Alicia Arenas’ experiences growing up with a profoundly mentally ill sibling.
Not sure how to connect joyfully with all your children. Read 101 Bright Ideas.
Always remember the sibling without the illness.