To the Parent of a Child with Special Needs,
I know you love your children with everything you have. I know how very much they mean to you.
But I also know firsthand how challenging and overwhelming life can be when you have a child with special needs.
I know about the tears and challenges and the never-ending doctor visits, therapies, medications, and supplements. I know about the dietary restrictions and altered lifestyle, the awkward glances and the hurtful comments by those who have no idea what you are going through.
No one will ever know how much you give and give in order to provide your child with the very best that you possibly can. When your child has special needs, you have special needs, too, Mama. You have needs that you must tend in order to be the very best for your child.
But you know what?
Your other children also have special needs. . . and their needs must be tended as well.
It’s easy to forget. It’s easy to think that they’re okay. It’s easy to look the other way because the truth is, your child with special needs requires so very much of you.
But we mustn’t forget. We mustn’t just assume that they’re okay. We must never look away.
Our children need us to notice. Our children need us to pay attention. Our children need us to see their special needs as well.
Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Need to Feel Safe
If your child with special needs struggles with behavioral issues, it can be very overwhelming for a sibling to process through all that is taking place. There may be yelling and rage, aggression, or extreme hyperactivity, all of which may make your other children feel unsafe.
Do you know if your children feel safe in your home? Have you ever asked them?
When children do not feel safe, they may react in negative ways. They may not know how to process through their emotions and struggles and may act out in defiance, jealousy, or anger. They may even begin to imitate the behaviors of their sibling, which could cause even more stress on the family.
If your children do not feel safe in your home, make it a priority to create a safe space. It could be their bedroom, a closet, or small room. Fill it with some of their favorite books, toys, journals, music, etc. and put a lock on the door if necessary. Spend some time with them in their safe space, and make it a positive place that they can go to when they feel overwhelmed or frightened.
And when they do go there, please take note. You’ll want to make sure to reassure them once the “storm” has calmed and help them feel safe outside of their room once again. You’ll want to make sure to make the time to talk.
Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Need to Talk
When you’re busy tending to the needs of your child with special needs, it may be easy to ignore the children, who are quietly tending to themselves. You may assume that the silence is a positive thing and may not feel the need to do anything more.
I encourage you to take the time to talk with your children—especially when they have retreated.
Ask questions and listen. Try to understand what they’re experiencing, and help them process through their emotions. Pray with them and encourage them to journal and/or record their favorite Scriptures and positive quotes.
Consider creating an emotional scale of 0-10, 0 representing happiness and joy and 10 representing extreme, negative emotions. Periodically, ask your children where they are on the scale, and then teach them how to stay under 7, so that they will not lose control of their emotions. Help them learn how to take charge of their emotional health.
If their struggles are greater than you or they can handle, consider providing additional support with counseling or play therapy. The emotional health of all of our children is so very important, and making the time to talk will help you better gauge when your children need a helping hand.
Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Need Your Patience
You may be the most patient of people, but when you have a child with special needs, even your best of intentions may go astray if you’re pushed too far. Sadly, it’s often the siblings that take the hit.
It’s the siblings that asked for that extra 10 minutes at the park, or the siblings, who decided that they just couldn’t take it anymore and slammed the door. It may be the siblings, who decided to act out, and there wasn’t anything left in you to calmly address their concerns.
It may not be a huge offense, but it’s just as tragic as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It may be just enough to send you over, and it may be just enough to break them, too.
Your children may need your patience, and the reality is that no one can give it to them except for you.
So, how do you give what you don’t have?
If you’re a believer, I encourage you to stay rooted in Christ, and find your rest in Him. Pray for your children and ask to see them as God sees them. Sometimes, it simply takes a change in perspective to open your eyes to what is truly taking place.
And then, make sure to eliminate stressors. When we lose our patience with those we love, it is often because we have too much on our plates. Have you added too many things to your calendar? Too many extra-curricular activities? Appointments? Commitments?
What needs to go?
You may need to find new rhythms for this season in order to best meet the needs of all your children. Eliminating extras may be what is necessary to focus on what is most important now.
Siblings of Children with Special Needs May Need Your Attention
Have you ever stopped to think about how much time you spend enjoying your children? And by, children, I mean all of them. Sometimes, we can get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget to enjoy the journey.
Your children need to see what it looks like to have joy in the midst of suffering, love in the midst of pain.
Laugh, Sweet Mama. Make time for laughter. Tell jokes, sing songs, or dance. Play music. Go for walks, or simply sit outside and gaze at the stars. Play games, bake something, or just lie on the bed and talk.
Share your victories and shortcomings. Discuss your favorite books. Pray together. Pray for one another. Come together as a family.
We live in a time when there are literally a million different things vying for our attention at any given time. We have the whole world at our fingertips, and I know how very tempting it can be to “check out” when it gets too hard. I know how easy it can be to simply “scroll away” in the name of “me-time” in order to numb ourselves and not face our reality.
Friend, please put down your phone. Turn off the TV. Being plugged in does not connect you with what matters most. There is nothing as important as your family and children. Give them your full and undivided attention.
And learn to enjoy every minute of it.
Living with a child with special needs can sometimes be challenging, but these challenges also offer opportunities for growth and connection. These challenges can also provide the means to unite as a family in order to focus on what matters most.
Making the effort to create a safe home for conversation, love, and joy is well worth it all. For when you are able to step back and truly see the needs of all your children, then you can better meet them where they are.
And as you do that, you pave the way for them to do the same with others as well.