Children expect everything to be fair. Nobody knows this more than a mother. In any home in America, at any given time, you can expect to hear phrases like “He got a bigger piece than me,” “She got to pick the movie last time,” and “It’s not fair.” In some cases, the situations are easy to remedy, however, in homes with special-needs children, parents often need to help their neurotypical children understand that life is not always fair, and also that fair doesn’t always mean equal when you have a special-needs sibling.
In families where there is a child who has some type of special need, their need often takes precedence over the needs of other children because in many cases the needs are related to health and may even be life-threatening. After a while, the neurotypical children in the family may begin to feel neglected or not as important as their sibling who has special needs. It’s important that parents find ways to ensure that all their children feel valued and loved.
If you’re struggling to help your non-special needs child feel special, here are some ideas to make it easier for you to create a feeling of family fairness for everyone.
Have a whole family get together
If your child with special needs is able, try to do outings that allow the whole family to enjoy a memorable time together. Attending a free concert in the park, a picnic, or just having a special meal together at home and watching a movie is a fun way to bring everyone together.
Go on an outing with just your non-special needs children
If your special needs child has challenges that make whole-family outings difficult, try to find someone who can watch him or her while you and your partner, if you have one, take the other children out for a special afternoon. It doesn’t have to be expensive. What is important is the time spent together.
If it isn’t possible for both parents to leave, try to tag-team it. One parent can stay home with the child who has special needs and the second can spend time with the other children. You can switch up each time so that both parents have quality time with all the children.
If the needs are just too great for either parent to leave, and respite care is not available, call on a family member or friend to take the non-special needs children out for a treat. It can be something as simple as a trip to the park, a visit to a friend’s house, or a trip to the local fast food restaurant for a milkshake. The main idea is it’s a special time for just the neurotypical, non-special needs sibling to get some quality time where they don’t have to worry about the special needs of their sibling. It can be all about them.
Other ways to help your children feel special
Another way that you can help your non-special needs children feel valued is to write a letter to them and tell them all the wonderful things you’ve noticed — how well they keep their room, how great they did on their multiplication test, or what a pretty voice they have. The letter doesn’t need to be long, just genuine and specific to each child. Also, be sure to notice if your child pitches in and helps out with things around the house, especially if it’s without being asked. A little gratitude goes a long way towards making a child feel important.
It isn’t easy raising children today, and with the added stresses of a special-needs family, trying to meet everyone’s needs can create a chaotic and sometimes divisive environment for everyone involved. Helping all the children feel important and cherished will go a very long way towards making everyone in the family feel loved and appreciated.
Read more from our Special Needs section.