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Parenting a disabled child: When another child isn’t disabled

My sister was born with severe cerebral palsy. Being the “typical” sibling, I remember times when I was jealous of the extra attention she needed. Now that I’m a mother, I wonder how mine did it all. If you’re parenting a disabled and non-disabled child, read more about how to find balance while trying to meet everyone’s needs.

Making special time for your child without special needs

“One of the best ways to help minimize emotional challenges for your typical child is to make sure they are not neglected and get the time and attention they need from you,” says Leslie Petruk, M.A., LPC, NCC, a therapist and mom to a child with special needs and two without.

“Scheduling one-on-one time and being cognizant of their developmental stage, and the needs that go along with the stage they are in, is critical so they don’t feel like the ‘forgotten’ child. Allowing them to express their frustrations and negative feelings related to having a sibling with special needs is often difficult for parents because of their own angst and desire to meet all of the needs of all of their children, but it is crucial in helping ‘typical’ children feel understood and important.”

Read more about special needs kids and well siblings >>

Petruk explains, “Sometimes, my husband and I will divide and conquer with one of us spending time with our son with special needs and the other with our two other daughters. My girls and I have special mommy/daughter dates as a ritual. When they start asking to go on one of our mommy/daughter dates, I know they are telling me that they need some one-on-one time with me.”

Growing up as a child in my parents’ house, my mom would have nightly “special time” with me and my sister. She’d sit on our beds — we had separate bedrooms — and we’d talk about our day. While neither of my children have special needs, I’ve continued this ritual, and we all find it a nice way to talk about the good and the bad before going to sleep.

Finding time to take care of your needs, too

Petruk adds, “When you have a child with special needs, asking for and accepting help is crucial in order to care for yourself and your children. It is easy to get caught in the pattern of being stretched too thin on all fronts, and this is not good for any parent or your children.”

Caregiver burnout: Tips for staying grounded >>

“Be sure you have someone to talk to — it can be trusted friend, counselor, pastor or rabbi, spouse or therapist,” says Dr. Fran Walfish, a therapist and aunt of a child with special needs. “Many caregiving parents hold a great deal of stress and worry without talking. This bottles up and can explode or erode over the long term.”

“Addressing these emotions will allow you to provide a safe environment for your other children to work through their emotions as well,” Petruk adds. “Not doing so will impact your ability to parent. Self care is the foundational building block for parenting your child with special needs as well as your other children.”

More on caring for kids

Special needs siblings
How siblings cope with a disability
Caring support for the well child

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