For the Love of Siblings

Victoria Tkachuk by Victoria Tkachuk Additional Needs

Victoria Tkachuk

Victoria Tkachuk

I'm from the Midwest region of the United States and I have four children, three neurotypical daughters and one son with dyskinetic cerebral palsy....

When you have your first child, nothing matters more than spending every waking moment with them.

New parents dote on their firstborn in a way unparalleled, making even the most mundane of tasks memorable and full of love.

It is an enviable relationship in many ways.

With every subsequent child born, parents' time and attention is divided, making one-on-one activities difficult, if not impossible.

There are needs that demand an immediate response, and guilt that you're spending too much or too little time with your other children can creep in.

But if you thought it was emotionally precarious before, the birth of a child with special needs will surprise you with how challenging it becomes to make each of your children feel as, well, special.

Speaking as a mother of four – three daughters and one son with cerebral palsy – I'd like to offer some solutions that have worked for my children in this regard.

Hopefully you find something here that helps you and your family.

My number one suggestion is to take advantage of respite care in your community.

I can't say enough positive things about respite care! It's great for your special needs child because they can play in a safe environment with peers who face similar challenges.

This shows the kids that they are not alone in their differences from neurotypical kids.

For the rest of your family, it allows you the freedom to go places without making special accommodations (which of course we are all willing to do but to have a break from is welcome).

Make everyday outings more meaningful.

Museums, parks, and community events are great, though not always accessible. But you can frequent the places you know work for all your kids, and turn those places into something special.

For example, we love our public library; all the kids' rooms are on the same floor, there are elevators and accessible bathrooms, free activities and touch screen computers.

Before we go, I talk up the trip, asking them what subjects of books they might want to check out, encourage them to see what the craft table has to offer, and so on.

As a result, my kids all love the library and think of it as a fun place to visit.

Make home time more meaningful, too.

Have you ever read a chapter book aloud to your child?

Or sat down and colored in a beautiful coloring book with them?

How about watching a funny show together, one that's on after the “little kids” go to bed?

These seem like small things, but to the sibling of a special needs child, the attention you're giving them is worth its weight in gold.

If you can't take them somewhere, at least you can hug them.

We can't always do special outings, and that's OK.

Don't underestimate the power of a long hug, singing a favorite song together, or simply asking them about what they are interested in right now.

Kids love to feel they've got your undivided attention, so give it to them a little bit each day if you can.

And don't forget the verbal praise! An encouraging word goes a long way in putting a contented smile on my kids' faces.

Take advantage of those who offer help.

Relatives in town? Friend offers to babysit? Take them up on the offer if you know your child will be cooperative.

I understand not all special needs children can be flexible in their routines, but if an occasion to spend time with their siblings is offered, try to take advantage of it.

You will find out who your friends are when your family's needs start piling up; these true friends really do want to help, so let them!

In all you do, be intentional and follow through.

Did you say you'd take them to a movie? Or that they could have a sleepover and you would chaperone? Then don't flake on your promise.

Is it a busy week and you don't have spare time for special sibling time? Then don't tell them you might!

It's OK to say “we'll do that another time soon.” It's not OK to say you will, then cancel at the last minute.

If you want your kids to resent you (or their special needs sibling), that's the way to accomplish it, and quickly.

We've incorporated each of these methods into our routine and, for the most part, we've found success with each sibling feeling unique, valued, and, especially, loved.

I hope you and all your children can use these or find other ways to enjoy each others' company every day.

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