Life is challenging enough when you are caring for a young child who has special needs. But it’s even more stressful when you also have an older child who is fed up with all the attention his younger sister receives.
In some cases, your older kid might be so upset about this that he actually has tantrums – because he feels left out and marginalised. This type of jealousy is common and a frequent complaint from siblings of a child who has developmental problems.
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BE FAIR, NOT EQUAL
Every child is unique with his own special blend of traits and abilities, with his own way of responding to the world around him. That’s why you treat each differently, depending on his personality and skills, while still trying to be fair. And that’s why treating children fairly is not the same as treating them equally.
If you took an equality approach to each of your children, then if one has piano lessons, the other would also have them, too – even though he may have wanted drama lessons. In other words, equality is about giving each child the same resource in the same way, irrespective of his different needs and wishes. On the other hand, fairness is about giving children the same resource in different ways, depending on their different needs and wishes.
Equality typically means that one child is unhappy and the other is happy, while fairness is more likely to result in both children being happy.
When you have a younger child with special needs in your family, fairness means that the older child gets different opportunities from his younger sibling. For instance, he has more freedom to make individual choices about his clothes, TV programmes, snacks and games.
His younger sister doesn’t have the skill to access those experiences, and she is much more dependent on your help for everyday tasks. Explain this to your older child. Point out that although she has more of your attention because of her special needs – that’s better than pretending otherwise – the older sibling is able to have much more freedom.
Encourage him to understand that there are advantages and disadvantages for both of them, but emphasise that each gets the attention and support that they need from you. Keep repeating this theme every time your older child raises this complaint with you. He’ll eventually understand the difference between equality and fairness.
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MAKE EXTRA TIME
No matter how much his head tells him that he has more advantages than his younger sibling with special needs, his heart tells him that he still wants more of your attention than he is getting at the moment.
Compensate for this perceived lack of attention by making special time for your older child – time when you and he can be together without any interruption. Five or 10 minutes each day will be more than enough to ease his hard-done-by feelings.
What you do together during these moments doesn’t really matter – you can talk, play games or eat. What counts is the fact that you’ve given him your attention.
Choose the times when his younger sibling is asleep or is cared for by someone else, so that you can give your four-year-old your undivided attention. A few minutes each day like this will have a terrific impact on easing the tension.
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