PARENT TIPSHEET: Supporting Siblings

resourcecentre@hollandbloorview.ca

These are tips that were written by a parent and reviewed by siblings of different Holland Bloorview clients. This resource is meant to share tips on how to best support siblings of someone with a disability. Think about your own tips or experiences that you can add to your copy of this tip sheet. Every family is different!

Special note: Holland Bloorview’s Family Resource Centre hosts a Sibling Workshop every year. Feel free to contact: resourcecentre@hollandbloorview.ca if you are interested in attending!

Tips

Reasons

How-to

Provide information about the diagnosis or medical condition

  • Provides knowledge of what the disability or medical condition is and what to expect
  • Helps to reassure the sibling and helps them to answer the questions they get from others
  • Give clear, age appropriate information and explanations
  • Make sure sibling understands that no one is to blame for their sibling’s disability
  • Help sibling find ways to explain the disability to their peer

Encourage open family discussions about siblings’ feelings and concerns

  • Allows siblings to talk about both positive and negative feelings
  • Provides a chance to talk about ways to handle stressful events such as: stigma, bullying, peers and public reactions
  • Recognize child’s feelings and concerns
  • Expect and acknowledge that child may have different emotions related to their sibling’s disability, and that it’s okay
  • Try to share your time equally between your children

Set reasonable expectations for all of your children in the family

  • Allows each sibling to learn and get involved when they are ready
  • Helps your sibling child to reflect on similarities and differences to their sibling with a disability
  • Prevents sibling from feeling like they have to somehow achieve for their sibling with a disability
  • Helps teach independence in the child with a disability so that each child can be an individual
  • Ask each child what they think you can expect from them – include them in the process
  • Understand that each child has different strengths and needs
  • Make sure that you give clear and reasonable expectations to ALL of your children (including the child with the disability)
  • Recognize the accomplishments of each child
  • Provide ongoing support to all of your children and keep the door open to conversation
  • Explain that expectations can change and evolve

Allow and encourage siblings to be children

  • Siblings are children too and need time to play and live their own lives
  • Prevents too much responsibility put on child to have to care for their sibling with a disability
  • Allows them to see the importance and value of taking time for themselves
  • Helps your sibling child to develop their own identity and interests
  • Make sure there is dedicated time that is just for the sibling (whether it is time with their friends or time with you)
  • Do not expect your sibling child to take adult roles, but rather discuss different roles in the family at a time that is dedicated for a conversation like this one
  • Do not make child think that they will be the only one responsible for the sibling with a disability in the future

Find appropriate ways to have siblings take part in caring for the child with a disability

  • Your child can provide valuable ideas
  • Your child is an important member of the sibling with a disability’s care team
  • Siblings will be in the lives of the sibling with a disability longer than anyone else
  • Share up-to-date information in a simple way with your child so that they can help to make family decisions
  • Encourage your child to observe their sibling with a disability in therapy or in a learning setting
  • Prepare your child for changes in home life before they happen

Provide appropriate supports to siblings

  • Your child will share many of the same concerns as parents of children with disabilities, but also have their own concerns or worries as siblings of children with disabilities
  • Provide child with the chance to discuss feelings with other siblings in the community - which may be difficult to talk about to the family
  • Many siblings often grow up without resources to support them
  • Siblings need the same kind of peer support that parents get from parent support groups
  • Siblings need to understand that it is okay to take care of themselves as well
  • Ask siblings if they want to meet other siblings of people with disabilities and let them decide if this is something that they want
  • If the child does not want to join a group yet, keep the door open to discuss it when they’re ready
  • Provide opportunities for child to get support – going to Sibling workshops or Young Carers Program if they wish
  • Let teachers know what is happening so that they can provide the appropriate supports to all your children
  • Model self-care as a parent

Last updated by a two siblings and Family Support Specialist in 2018