How can parents schedule their days to have quality time alone with the child who DOES NOT have special needs? How do you give the much needed attention to siblings who do not have special needs? It is a very difficult position for both parents and siblings. What can these parents do? This was my topic for The Coffee Klatch Tweetchat with guest Julie Wolfe. Julie graduated with a BS and MA in Early Childhood Education. She was a Kindergarten teacher for five years in Teaneck, NJ before having her two children, Ryan and Sydney.
Julie Wolfe is both author and illustrator of My Holly – A Story of a Brother’s Understanding and Acceptance. This book should be in all health care clinics, public and school libraries and especially in all homes with a special needs child. See my review of My Holly here. Also, you may read more about this smart mom whose story will touch your heart in our Author Interview Series on our Special Needs Book Review site. Read Julie’s fine answers here.
When Julie’s premature daughter, Sydney, was an infant she suffered three strokes, one at four months, another one week later and a third one at six month and a half. This time in their lives was a nightmare for the parents as well as for their first born, a son named Ryan. This is how Julie so well explained it in her interview: “During the time Sydney was in the hospital, my husband and I took turns staying overnight, and sleeping on the small pull-out chair that sat next to Sydney’s bed. We had Ryan at home, and one of us always made sure to be there for him as well.
It was the hardest experience I ever had to endure as a mother. No matter where I was I wished I was someplace else. If I was home with Ryan, I wanted to be with Sydney. When I was with Sydney, I wanted to be back home with Ryan!
When Sydney did come home it wasn’t easy at first. I was so happy to have both my children under the same roof again, but dividing my time between Sydney and Ryan and my husband and myself was hard! It took a lot of adjusting to, and all of us had to make sacrifices. You get use to things though, and eventually you get back into the swing of things.”
My Holly – A Story of a Brother’s Understanding and Acceptance is a story about a young boy’s understanding of why his little sister can’t do everything other kids can do. Jack, the sibling in this picture book, learns to accept his sister, and he realizes that even though his sister takes up a lot of his parents’ time, he is still loved. Anyone who has a sibling with disabilities can relate to this story Julie Wolfe wrote for her son Ryan. My Holly should be read to students in early grades to help them understand about differences and help them be more patient with peers with different abilities. You can buy My Holly through Julie’s website.
So on to our Tweetchat on Siblings of Children with Special Needs. Remember the 140 character restriction on Twitter.
Lorna: Julie, what do you do to reassure Ryan and make him feel an important part of your family?
Julie Wolfe>> I make sure to spend time with my son, and we are very close. I explain everything. I’m very open, and my son knows he can ask me anything. I make sure to plan special time with him. It’s not easy! It’s a constant juggle, but you make it work.
My son just turned seven and I’ve always told him, “There’s nothing you can’t tell me!” Whenever my son has something to show me or say to me, if I can’t give him my attention right then, I make sure I to always follow through. Also I worked out my kids’ schedules to work for me! Sydney goes to bed early, so I have my nights with Ryan and I love these evenings. Sydney’s up early, so mornings with her are special.
The story, My Holly, is all true for the most part. Ryan did once tell me he sometimes wished Sydney wasn’t around. I told Ryan I understood his feelings 100 percent. He knows how much I still love him and I try to spend time with him. I try to get Ryan to talk to me about his feelings towards his sister. Each weekend we try to do something special with Ryan. Sometimes we cannot all go together and this makes me feel isolated at times when my husband gets to take our son places and I’m left home.
We appreciated Bobbi Sheahan’s participation. Remember the book What I Wish I’d Known about Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D? Today Bobby stopped by and tweeted, “Lorna, we are together a lot as a family, but I try really hard not to breed resentment by making the siblings feel like hostages. You need to make sure that the child without issues gets his or her turn. Let them pick what to do. Mostly, they have their own activities. I can’t take them all to soccer (or whatever) together because it doesn’t work out as often as one might think. Even if it accommodates two of my kids by age it does not mean that both of them like that activity.”
Advice and Comments from Others
Some siblings of a child with special needs can easily become resentful so it is best to be proactive.
Parents should talk with each child as they mature and keep lines of communication opened so nothing gets bottled up.
Parents are unable to allot a truly balanced portion of their time to the siblings so they try to make every minute count and this becomes stressful.
It’s a big job to keep tabs on each child’s thoughts and emotions, and help every member of the family feel loved and respected.
Parents can share a two-way journal with the sibling. They take turns writing to each other like writing letters… this could be done in a word document.
Try separate vacations leaving the child with special needs with the other parent or another caregiver to have time away with the sibling.
Encourage siblings to make friends and find activities outside of the family.
The best thing a parent can do for any child is pay attention and react immediately. Sometimes all it takes is a pat on the back or a few comforting words.
What to Do If a Sibling is Resentful?
It takes a lot of frank discussions to get siblings to see a more balanced view of the situation and sometimes families must get professional help. Parents must not let bad feelings fester. If the siblings are stressed or depressed they must nip this in the bud. Teen years are brutal when ALL is well; therefore get them to confide in a trusted person.
Siblings with healthy social lives are often happier and more confident and accept the situation at home better. Encourage them to bring friends home often or arrange that they spend time with friends at community events like at the local library, church socials, school programs…
Siblings of children with special needs do well!
It seems these siblings, in the end, are OK! They mature faster, are more responsible and respectful of differences. “YES, definitely!” one mom tweeted, “My son wouldn’t dare be caught bullying or making fun of anyone!” Another mom shared that her teenagers are now advocates/ambassadors for kids with special needs by exposing their friends to their brother in their home.