If you have a new child who’s been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, it’ll take a concerted effort, a good amount of time and an open heart to adapt to the new family dynamics. Having a child with special needs adds a new – and sometimes overwhelming – dimension to your life.
It is your job to be their role model. Take time to talk openly with your other children about their special needs sibling and spending quality time with them.
How Children are Affected by Having a Sibling with Cerebral Palsy
Children experience a wide range of emotions regarding a special-needs sibling – sometimes positive (affectionate and protective), sometimes not so positive, according to the University of Michigan Health System. They may feel:
- overlooked and under appreciated;
- jealous that their sibling gets so much attention;
- worried about their sibling or worried they can “catch” the condition;
- obligated to do things their sibling can’t;
- pressure to be perfect and to achieve;
- resentful that they have to do the things their sibling can’t; and
- embarrassed about their sibling’s disability.
Explaining Cerebral Palsy to Your Other Children
Children need to be assured that they are free to ask any questions they may have and may talk candidly about their feelings and their needs. Give them clear answers to their questions and help them find constructive ways to deal with their emotions.
You can explain the basics of cerebral palsy to your other children, how it affects the body, and what your special needs child’s limitations and disabilities may be. Help them see things through the eyes of the child with cerebral palsy. Most of all have fun, ask for their help and praise them for their assistance.
The good news is that although having a sibling with cerebral palsy does cause a certain degree of stress, it doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely negative. Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D., explains on PsychCentral that having a child with a disability can lead to creative problem solving and personal growth. In fact, he says, “Children who have disabled siblings can gain a greater appreciation of the value of different kinds of people and become more understanding of human differences.”
Helping Your Children Adjust
Some of things that may help your children adjust to the sibling and the new home life include:
- regular, one-on-one time with each parent;
- reassurance of their own personal worth;
- encouragement to pursue their own interests and goals;
- counseling and/or a support group; and
- your help seeking ways to cope with their emotions.
It’s natural that some degree of sibling rivalry, resentment and conflicting emotions may develop over time. However, if you feel you other children are having an extremely hard time dealing with the situation, or if they start to withdraw or continually act out, you might consider consulting a behavioral therapist or counselor.
As parents ourselves at Chalik & Chalik, we aim to provide parents in South Florida with helpful tips and information. Head over to our Parents’ Corner to check out our other parent-centered articles.