Moment 2 Moment Masterpiece Parenting Blog

Siblings Rock Week 4

by: Elizabeth Thorndike

Today we are once again focusing on the amazing siblings that surround our special needs kiddos. These siblings are such an integral part of the lives of those with special needs. They can challenge them and support them throughout their growing years. They often become best buddies to their siblings and are usually in their lives longer than the parents. We, as their caregivers, can help guide these relationships as well as enrich them by creating healthy communication and setting up creative ways to help them thrive.

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The following are some unique ways to foster a healthy relationship with this wonderful group of people.
  • Creating a safe environment – It is so important that siblings feel safe in their own home. If a child is violent, it is imperative that a plan for safety be put into place. It is never okay for a sibling of a special needs child to feel scared or threatened. In addition, these individuals can take it upon themselves to take on the responsibilities of their special needs brother or sister to be helpful. However, they can take too much on and feel tired or resentful. As parents it is important to watch for a healthy balance when it comes to responsibilities.

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  • Set Healthy Expectations – It is important for parents to set healthy expectations for all siblings in a family. Having all kiddos do chores and take responsibility in a family makes it fair and builds confidence for all siblings. It is important for parents to keep an eye on typical siblings, so they do not take responsibility too far. They can get overwhelmed and again unknowingly build resentment.

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  • Include them – The first year of Shelby’s life was filled with medical appointments and therapies. Dan was so busy with our new business that I took Savannah everywhere with us. She was part of the journey, not on the side. This turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened. At a very young age, our typical daughter grew in compassion. She saw the things her sister was walking through and saw how hard she worked. She was a part of it all. When at therapies, the therapists included her. At medical appointments, the nurses gave her extra equipment so she would be included. We left appointments with tons of medical playthings…. bandages, gloves, tubes, and special kits. When Shelby had her ND feeding tube in, the nurses made sure that Savannah received her own kit for her baby doll. She walked right next to me as I pushed Shelby in the stroller and pushed her stroller containing a baby with a feeding tube. I allowed her to make simple decisions on our adventures and asked her opinion on simple things. She was proud of her sister and told everyone about our journey. It was her journey too.

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  • Allow arguing– It is vital to the health of relationships that parents allow their children to work through things. Typical siblings should not take unfair treatment from a special needs sibling and be expected to just deal with it. They should have the space to argue with their siblings and express how they feel, even if it is messy. This not only creates a  balance and lets all siblings know that their feelings matter, but it also gives special needs siblings an opportunity to resolve conflict and establish some empathy. This way friendships can come easier to special needs kiddos as they age.

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  • One on one time– Setting times aside to have special dates with typical siblings is a valuable way to make sure their emotional needs are met. This “set aside” time communicates to your son/daughter that you care about their hopes and dreams, and that finding balance in your relationship with them is very important. It also allows space for this sibling to share any concerns or hurts that can naturally pop up on a special needs journey. They need to know they can be honest about how they feel without offending a parent. Empathizing with them that you know that this journey can be full of hard and full of amazing all at the same time, can draw you closer in relationship.

Shay and Elizabeth playing football

  • Peer relationships – Finding other kids who are on the same journey as your typical child can be very helpful. It is powerful and healing to spend time with someone that understands your journey and can relate. Creating time and space for these friendships to happen is an important role of any special needs parent. Remember, these typical siblings that bless our families have experienced all the same feelings and emotions that the parents do. However, they are younger and not equipped to maneuver all these big feelings. They need peers that they can talk to and even laugh with about their journeys.

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  • Chat openly about the future – This is such an important conversation to have with your typical sibling throughout their lives, especially in the teen years. This is the time when they are thinking about their future and planning and dreaming about what is next for them. I guarantee every typical sibling has wondered about their role in the future with their special needs sibling. As parents age, the unknown can cause great anxiety, so it is better to revisit this topic as needed. It is important that these siblings know that their dreams matter and that you will do everything to help them become fully who they are called to be. Discuss any plans that have already been made in case of a sudden death and reassure them that their opinion always matters.

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What a fabulous group of humans…the siblings that surround our special needs kiddos! Cultivating honest communication with them and creating a space for them to be unique individuals is vital in order for them to thrive.

about us

Meet the Thorndikes - Moment to Moment Family

Hi there! We are the crazy cool parents to 5 amazing and crazy cool kiddos. But, first, we are Dan and Elizabeth Thorndike – married 15 years and living this life one moment at a time. We have a full and blessed life, but we are clumsily tackling a journey we never foresaw ourselves living.

Read our story of how this journey all started in our blog post titled:
“The Beginning. Our Special Needs Journey”


Elizabeth Thorndike

Introverted extrovert – that’s how I describe myself. I absolutely love being a mama but never knew how hard it would be, nor how deeply I could love.



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