On my course there were some great strategies of supporting the siblings of children with SEN.
Lots of us there had a ‘light bulb moment’ when we realised the strategies we do for our SEN child we could do with their siblings too. That would include them and help to celebrate their smaller achievements amongst other things.
Equal or Fair?
We talked about teaching the difference of what’s ‘equal’ and what’s ‘fair’. All parenting advice would suggest consistency is key; but when one of your children has SEN you cannot always be consistent! G & I can really struggle when we have higher expectations of them or when they can’t have ‘treats’ like H which he needs to calm down or meet his sensory needs. We do not excuse all of H’s behaviour but there is much more allowance given.
I will be working on the ‘equal’ and ‘fair’ stuff a lot at home as I like that explanation that it doesn’t have to be equal to be fair.
My family have a great understanding of this point and are amazing at lavishing love, time, effort and soft toys (!) with all three of our boys and model regularly how they can be fair without being equal. One of the things I remember my grandpa for was being a real advocate for our younger boys whilst adoring H. A real blessing!
So here are the top 5 strategies for helping siblings of SEN children:
- Give them 1:1 time. This doesn’t have to be a big block, expensive or elaborate. A chance for them to do an activity uninterrupted, talk about their feelings or to watch their choice on TV is enough. Little and often is ideal if possible.
- Give them an understanding of their siblings needs or condition with as much information as they can cope with. Include them in decisions where possible and give explanations for their siblings behaviour. Then be prepared for the questions that follow!
- You could make a ‘chat box’ or ‘worry box’ where at any time the siblings can put notes in with questions or worries they have. Then make a dedicated time to talk through them. It will mean they feel listened to even if you cannot give them the time immediately and they may feel more comfortable to write than talk about it.
- Focus on the positive relationships between siblings and the games that encourage good interactions. One suggestion was to make ‘games cards’ with ideas on of things they can play that you know will go well. Start with 5 minutes and build up from there – or maybe 2 minutes if that’s more realistic!
- Be silly! Loved this one and in an intense environment with lots of struggles being silly, making mess and having fun is good for everyone. It helps keep the young carers ‘childlike’ and serves as a distraction. So no excuses now as if we needed one to be honest!
I don’t want to share my other boys stories but I do want to say how proud I am of them. They protect, love and embrace H and all he brings to our family. They love him unconditionally. Occasionally they hide from him when he’s shouting or throwing, get massively rejected when they want to play or have to sacrifice what they would choose but they continue to love H. He’s their big brother even though he acts younger than both of them in some ways and they are H’s best friends.
Siblings of children with SEN are so special and we live with 2 of the best! Just a reality check to say all our boys fight lots, bundle regularly and make almost as many mistakes as we do!