Siblings argue and annoy each other, often deliberately. And then suddenly they will unite most often against their parents. Nothing changes across generations. What differs is the dynamics if one child has additional needs, and that child’s ability to argue and interact with their sibling. Then there is misunderstanding.
This is sometimes the case for us, and when it happens I try to smooth things over with a chat about the 4 things I believe we need to think about and remind ourselves in our house.
Before I launch into my list, not only born from my experiences but also from other friends’ experiences, we should also pause to reflect on the causes. All siblings do things to annoy each other while also subconsciously fighting for parents’ attention, and additional needs doesn’t hinder this process. But what changes in my experience is how all this happens.
Sometimes children with additional needs don’t always understand normal social etiquette, such as not giving a running commentary or exploding with laughter as a TV comedy plays canned laughter at a dubious joke. I’m sure we could all think of examples of where our children with additional needs act differently, but I sometimes struggle to remember that most children don’t like to stand out from what they perceive is ‘normal’. Then, and maybe you get it too, I get the ‘Can’t you do something, look!’ I almost understand this , but I have conflicting thoughts because I know every single day life is a challenge for my daughter with additional needs.
So when situations happen, and there is no immediate sign of a truce naturally occurring, I intervene to defuse the situation. Then when I’m alone with the sibling without additional needs, I try to explain why I think things happened this way. I’m definitely not trying to make the sibling feel guilty but to help her understand. We all need time to reflect and learn from our experiences it is part of what makes us human.
These are the four things I talk about:
1 – Often no one listens to their sibling with additional needs. Sometimes their sibling gets stuck in the middle of a sentence and can’t find the next words quick enough. They then notice how many times that they get to this point and realise that whoever they are talking to moves the conversation on, talks over them, or generally loses interest. They experience this feeling every day. Perhaps a parent or someone particularly patient may wait to listen, but many don’t. They notice this. The result, they get the feeling that nobody is interested in what they have to say.
2 – Holding a conversation is all about processing speed. Sometimes their sibling simply can’t follow the conversation quick enough to get their thoughts out, so they end up locked out of the conversation. They take so much more time to process what’s been said, so then by the time they have decided what they would like to say the conversation has moved on. The result, they get left without being able to express themselves which only adds to their frustration.
3 – Children with additional needs don’t always get an active role in family decisions. When the question comes up, what shall we do? Their sibling will often offer a suggestion which is impossible or illogical, and so gets ignored – or rather quietly discounted, which is the same thing. The result, they feel that they have no real say in what happens because their suggestions are rarely acted upon.
4 – The sibling with additional needs gets frustrated because they have so much less control over their own life. Everyone makes choices for them, whether it be subtly telling them what they can’t wear (because it’s inappropriate), to hurry up (because they don’t have a functional concept of time), that they can’t go to meet people they know (because they can’t use public transport alone). The result, they live a life determined by other people, so it’s no wonder that they are sometimes frustrated and angry.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that reinforcing these 4 points will instantly solve sibling rivalry problems, and the one without additional needs will suddenly transform into the perfect sibling, if such a thing even exists. And I also constantly remind myself how difficult it is moving from child to adulthood. And that is challenge for all of us, helping all our children navigate the journey.
But I hope that over time, and with enough love in my words, that understanding will come. Then with it, hopefully, a longer term relationship in which both siblings value, accept and love each other for who they each are, rather than just because they are siblings.