the stress on siblings 2 siblings looking at a tree of hope

Harmonising Needs: Balancing SEN and Non-SEN Siblings

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Caring for a child with Special Educational Needs (SEN) is undoubtedly a rewarding but also challenging journey. One of the lesser-discussed aspects of this journey is the impact it can have on the siblings of the child with SEN. As a parent or caregiver, finding the delicate balance between meeting the unique needs of your SEN child and ensuring the emotional well-being of their brothers and sisters can be a complex endeavour. In this blog post, we will delve into the problems that can arise from personal experience and present effective solutions for striking that crucial balance.

Identifying the Problems & Finding Solutions

Attention Imbalance and Being Fair

Problem: In families with a child who has SEN, the majority of attention is often directed toward the child with special needs. This essential focus can inadvertently lead to feelings of neglect and jealousy among other siblings, impacting their self-esteem. We all try and balance things, we do not set out to add support to one over another in the family unit. As one of our parent contributors pointed out;

“It was several years before one of our childrhen vocalised the imbalance in the house, and we felt taken back, we both felt we always worked to balance evereything. Once you get that seed in the mind you then spot it. One child has a melt down upstairs, and we, admit it, blamed the other child, not just blame but gave a mini lecture based on, no evidence at all other than the sound of the child with a meltdown.

That was the big learning curve, is to accept the challenges childrhen have with SEN, but its not a free pass. There are boundaries, there are acceptable areas of behaviour. We know its challenging, we would like to win each time, but that is not how things are. The other thing, is that our SEN child had the understanding of our reactions when things went off the rails.”

Parent discussing the imbalanced household

Solution: Open family discussions can help acknowledge everyone’s needs and achievements. Regular one-on-one time with each child can ensure they feel valued. Encouraging siblings to express their feelings and ensuring they receive positive reinforcement for their roles and achievements can mitigate feelings of neglect.

Emotional Strain

Siblings of children with SEN are in a unique position, closely observing the daily struggles and triumphs of a family member with special needs. This proximity often subjects them to a rollercoaster of emotions that they might find difficult to process or articulate. Empathy for their sibling’s situation can lead to profound feelings of sadness and helplessness, seeing someone they love face challenges they can neither fully understand nor alleviate. This empathy can be emotionally draining.

“One of our children adapted as good as they could under the circumstances to their younger SEN sibling, home life and the challenges this brought, its not easy, but what they struggled with, was seeing how the school appeared to be central to the problem.

We should have shielded the older one more from the grind of the process. We would be arguing over the crumbling standard of education at the dinner table, when I got home, checking the bag for an update to an important question in the home-to-school diary to then learn the home-to-school diary was taken and not returned. To visibly see the standard of education dropping was not healthy to see. Obviously the process is with the Local Authority, but they had a window seat from the schools part, and it never appeared that helpful.

When your child [none sen] asks why the school was heavily providing evidence that they could and are meeting the education needs, what coud you say to that question? because the head teacher is an experienced teacher whose expertise believes in that [or] do you just use the lay term ‘its nonsense’. In the home its abit too unfiltered, i think generations ago there was a level of privacy and stoicism that just doesn’t exist any more, or it doesn’t in our house, everything is out there in the open”

Parent on sibling emotional strain and being too open

Frustration of living an Adapted life

Frustration is another significant aspect of this emotional strain. It may stem from disrupted family routines, changed plans due to the sibling’s needs, or even from not knowing how to help or interact with their sibling effectively. This frustration can sometimes lead to guilt, as siblings might feel wrong for experiencing such emotions when they recognize the greater difficulties their brother or sister faces.

Confusion often arises from a lack of clear understanding about the sibling’s condition. Young siblings especially may have trouble grasping why their brother or sister behaves differently or requires more attention and support. This confusion can be compounded by external factors, such as differing reactions from peers or society’s stigmatization of disability, leading to mixed feelings about how to feel or act.

Moreover, guilt is a complex emotion that siblings might contend with. They may feel guilty for having fewer or no special needs, for occasionally resenting the extra attention their sibling receives, or for wanting a “normal” family life. These feelings of guilt are natural but can weigh heavily on a young person’s psyche, influencing their self-perception and interactions with others.

Tips on Addressing the Issue

To mitigate these emotional strains, parents and caregivers must foster an open, supportive environment where feelings can be expressed without judgment. Professional support, such as counselling or sibling support groups, can offer a safe space for these children to explore their emotions, understand them, and learn coping strategies. Education about their sibling’s condition, framed in an age-appropriate and positive manner, can also demystify the source of their emotional turmoil, reducing confusion and fostering a deeper bond between siblings.

Encouraging positive interactions and shared activities between siblings can strengthen their relationship, providing a foundation of mutual understanding and support. Recognizing and celebrating the unique contributions of each child to the family dynamic can help alleviate feelings of jealousy or neglect.

In essence, addressing the emotional strain on siblings in families with SEN children requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses communication, education, professional support, and most importantly, unconditional love and understanding. By acknowledging and addressing these challenges head-on, families can help all their children to thrive emotionally and mentally, fostering resilience and empathy that will serve them throughout their lives.

Providing access to support groups or counselling specifically for siblings can be invaluable. These resources offer a safe space to express feelings, learn coping strategies, and connect with others in similar situations, enhancing understanding and resilience.

Limited Activities

The family’s routine often revolves around the child with SEN, restricting activities and leading to resentment among siblings.

Ways to help mitigate the issue, planning inclusive family activities that accommodate everyone’s needs can foster a sense of unity and fairness. Additionally, ensuring siblings have opportunities to pursue their interests, possibly through external clubs or groups, can help maintain a balance.

Lack of Understanding

Siblings might not fully understand their brother or sister’s condition, leading to misconceptions and isolation.

Solution tips, educational resources and discussions tailored to the sibling’s age and understanding can demystify the condition. Involving siblings in therapy sessions or special education programs can also foster a deeper understanding and empathy, bridging the gap in their knowledge and feelings of isolation.

Solutions for Balancing the Needs

Individual Time and Attention

Make a conscious effort to spend quality one-on-one time with each child, focusing solely on their interests and needs. This helps them feel valued and understood. Regularly check in with them, ask about their day, and listen attentively to their thoughts and concerns. This not only nurtures their emotional well-being but also fosters a sense of inclusivity within the family.

Open Communication

Create an environment where all family members can openly express their feelings, frustrations, and concerns. Engage in age-appropriate conversations about the sibling’s special needs, encouraging questions and addressing any misconceptions. Open communication ensures that every child’s emotional needs are acknowledged and validated.

Shared Activities

Find activities that can involve all siblings, taking into account the interests and capabilities of each child. Engaging in shared hobbies, games, or outings can foster stronger bonds among siblings and make them feel more connected as a family unit. This also reinforces the idea that everyone’s preferences are important.

Sibling Support Groups

Consider enrolling the siblings in support groups specifically designed for siblings of children with SEN. These groups provide a safe space for them to share their experiences, learn coping strategies, and connect with others who understand their situation. These interactions can help them feel less isolated and more empowered.

Educate and Involve

Take the time to educate all family members about the child’s special needs. Age-appropriate explanations can help siblings understand the challenges their brother or sister faces and develop empathy. Involving them in the caregiving process, when appropriate, can also help them feel more connected and responsible.

Seek Professional Help

If you notice signs of emotional distress or strain in any of the siblings, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist or counsellor experienced in family dynamics and special needs can provide valuable guidance and strategies for supporting the emotional well-being of all family members.

Interested in specific 1-to-1 Targeted Therapy from EHCParent?

One-to-one therapy offers a personalised approach to understanding the root causes of your stress and anxiety within the unique context of your home environment. It provides a confidential space to explore personal triggers and learn coping strategies tailored to your individual needs. By engaging with a skilled therapist, you’re not just seeking relief; you’re investing in a transformative journey towards emotional resilience and well-being.

Why Choose One-to-One Therapy?

  • Personalised Care: Your therapy sessions are tailored to address your specific circumstances, ensuring that the strategies and solutions are directly applicable to your life.
  • Expert Guidance: Work with professionals who bring a wealth of experience in dealing with stress and anxiety, offering evidence-based practices that have helped countless individuals regain their sense of peace.
  • Flexibility: Therapy sessions can be scheduled around your life, making it easier to integrate this crucial support into your busy routine.
  • Confidentiality: A private setting ensures that your concerns are addressed with the utmost respect for your privacy, allowing for open and honest communication.

Take the First Step Today

If the weight of stress and anxiety has made your home feel less welcoming, it’s time to reclaim your space and your peace of mind. One-to-one therapy can be the key to unlocking a more serene and joyful home life. It’s a proactive step towards not just managing symptoms, but nurturing a healthier, happier you.

Don’t let stress and anxiety dictate the atmosphere of your home any longer. Reach out to a professional today, and embark on a journey to rediscover tranquility in your home. It’s more than a call for help; it’s a step towards transformation. Your path to a more peaceful life starts here.

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