Siblings: The Do’s and Don’ts of Why Not to Let Siblings Help your SPD Child
This post contains information regarding why it’s important to not always let siblings do things for your SPD child. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
Some version of the following scenario plays out at my house on a regular basis. One of my kids has done something they weren’t supposed to or didn’t do something they were asked to do (not having shoes on is a very common one). So, said child is getting a stern reprimand to get in gear and get their shoes on so we can go when one of the others chimes in with an oh so helpful comment such as, “yeah, if you don’t get your shoes on, we’ll be late and then you don’t get any popcorn at the movie.” And then that comment is met with some kind of rage-filled battle cry that they’re moving as fast as they can. As much as child number 2’s intentions were to assist me by getting child number 1 to put their shoes on, it usually has the opposite effect.
Siblings have interesting dynamics. They switch from being the best of friends to mortal enemies in two seconds flat. They spend countless hours copying or wanting what the other has and then insist they don’t want to be anything like each other. And when one of those siblings has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), those dynamics can be even more interesting. The presence of meltdowns, special accommodations and the extra attention that can come from having a child with SPD can stir feelings of frustration and jealously, but can also instill a desire to help and a need to protect.
Do’s and Don’ts
Because kids with SPD can require so much structure and special care, it’s important to establish some guidelines so that the siblings can feel like they’re helpful and needed, but also that their needs and wants are met. So here are some do’s and don’ts for helping your SPD child and their siblings.
Don’t Encourage Competition
Kids with SPD sometimes reach milestones later and learn information and tasks slower. Because of this, it’s important not to encourage a competitive spirit between them. Naturally, siblings tend to be competitive with each other on their own, even when parents don’t encourage it or they aren’t competitive themselves; however, competition can lead to comparison and that can lead to a hard knock to your slower developing child’s self-esteem. If your children tend to have a competitive spirit, make sure you focus on each child’s strengths so both your SPD child and your other children know they have something to be proud of even if it’s something different from their siblings. Encourage siblings not to compare their accomplishments and milestones to each other so your SPD child doesn’t feel like they are failing in the areas their siblings are excelling.
Don’t Let Siblings do Chores
We all love and appreciate when our kids step in to help each other, especially when it comes to chores. However, if you have a child with SPD, it could actually be counterproductive for a sibling to take the reigns and do the chores for them. Most chores require what we call “heavy work,” which provides several benefits for children with SPD. Heavy work can actually calm your child’s nervous system and can prevent fidgeting and attention and focus issues. Activities like taking out the garbage, moving boxes, pushing the vacuum and mowing the lawn can all be wonderful exercises to give your SPD child the sensory integration they need. This is why it’s a great opportunity for them to do their own chores without the help of a sibling.
Don’t Let Siblings Speak For Your SPD Child
SPD kids commonly struggle with communication. It can be difficult for them to find the words to express themselves through the jumble of thoughts and emotions that get triggered when information isn’t processing correctly. The frustration from this can lead a child straight to a meltdown. It might be tempting for your other children to speak up for your SPD child in order to divert meltdowns or to speed things up when they’re taking too long to respond.
We discourage this for two big reasons. If the other kids aren’t very good representative voices, this can cause even further anger and frustration in your SPD child. And the second reason is that it is important for your SPD child to learn to properly communicate with others and the only way to encourage that is to wait it out and make them practice. It’s also good practice to set some time aside with your SPD child to talk with you about their day, how they felt at school, what’s bothering them and what things make them feel most comfortable. The more the express themselves and their feelings, the better they are at sharing what is bothering them when meltdowns arise.
Don’t Let Siblings do Sports for your SPD Child
As you may know, sensory kids benefit greatly from activities that utilize balance and coordination. When we play family sports like basketball, soccer, tennis, softball and volleyball, we want our sensory children to participate in the same activities so they can utilize their vestibular systems, proprioception, and hand-eye coordination. If siblings throw the ball for your SPD child, or if they bat the ball, kick the ball into the goal, dribble the ball down the court or serve the volleyball, it’s not giving them the change to build their gross and fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and core muscle needed for sensory integration. They may be slower and less coordinated than other siblings, but this gives them a great opportunity to practice and perfect their motor skills. We want to give them the same opportunities as their siblings. This is usually not a problem when they play on different sports teams, but when playing family games, make sure your sensory child gets multiple turns.
Don’t Let Siblings Help With Homework
When a sibling tries to help out with homework in my house, it’s usually met with out right resistance and that’s when the SPD factors aren’t in play. So I avoid it to avoid the headache. But many kids with SPD work with therapists or tutors to help them develop their motor skills and learning skills and these programs usually use specific learning techniques to train the body and mind. Assistance from a well-meaning sibling could counteract the work of their learning plan. Because of that, it’s best to keep the homework help to the tutors and parents who are working with the tutors as well.
Don’t Let Siblings Handle Meltdowns
Siblings may want to help out during a meltdown by getting sensory toys or taking on other tasks to help their sibling calm down. But it’s important to encourage your SPD child to do these tasks for themselves. Choosing which sensory toys or which tactics are going to help them calm down best helps them self-regulate and allows them to take responsibility for their feelings. As they grow older, when they have a meltdown or experience sensory overload, we want them to decide and determine on their own what will help regulate their emotions when no one is around to help them. The other downside to this is for the siblings. It’s not healthy for the siblings to feel like they are responsible for their SPD sibling’s behavior, which can easily happen if they are taking responsibility for calming them down. It’s not to say they can’t help at all, but be sure there are boundaries and a firm understanding of where responsibility lies.
Do Let Siblings Offer Praise
Every child wants and deserves praise and credit for their successes, but kids who struggle with SPD or other learning and behavioral difficulties especially need to hear they’ve done a good job. There’s no harm in a sibling offering love and praise. It helps them feel accepted and boosts their self-esteem. In addition, SPD children often look for acceptance from their siblings. It’s a good way for siblings to show their love for your child who struggles with SPD.
Do Let Them Play
SPD kids also struggle with social development. They can exhibit strange behaviors like not respecting personal space or struggling to communicate with others. Playing with siblings who know their quirks and can be more understanding allows them to practice social situations and responses in a safe environment. It’s also good to let them do sensory activities together. This can help boost your SPD child’s motivation and enthusiasm for the activities that help them most.
Do Encourage Them to Express Feelings
This one goes for both the SPD child and their siblings. Like I said before, it’s important for SPD children to learn to express what they’re feeling. But it’s just as important that your other children get a chance to express how they feel. With the frustration and negative feelings that can rise up, your kids need a chance to safely express how they feel about the situations with their SPD sibling and everything else. They need to know that their feelings matter too and that their voices are heard. As you know, raising an SPD child can be a lot of work, which may cause your other children to have feelings of neglect, embarrassment or jealousness. Providing them with opportunities where they feel safe so they can express these emotions and feelings is important for the overall health and wellness of both the SPD child and their siblings.
Do Let Them Attend Counseling
Especially in severe cases, dealing with SPD can be exhausting and most definitely frustrating. If the frustration becomes too much to handle, don’t forget to offer a chance for counseling, whether private or group counseling that’s now available on some areas for both your SPD child and their siblings. This gives them a chance to talk and be heard like above as well as providing them with the possibility to better understand their siblings and that they aren’t alone in what they’re going through.
It can be hard to think that your other children shouldn’t help out with certain activities, but it’s important to remember that those restrictions are for the good of all of your children. When setting guidelines, make sure they all know that it’s not because they aren’t helpful, but that their happiness is the number one goal.
Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo! Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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