Sibling Challenges

For some children, school can be a respite from the stresses at home; for others there can be extra challenges at school. However, if educational settings recognise sibling challenges and signs they are not coping as well as offer support, they are more likely to meet their learning goals.

Siblings face a number of challenges within the school environment:

  • In terms of individual support, their needs often go unrecognised and may be overshadowed by the needs of their brother or sister with disability
  • Teachers sometimes depend on siblings to help manage their brother or sister’s behaviours
  • Teasing and bullying in the playground
  • Misunderstandings about their brother or sister’s disability
  • Home life pressures can create practical challenges, such as not finishing homework; tiredness & poor concentration
  • Siblings may carry a lot of concern for the welfare of their brother or sister with disability
  • Siblings often experience stress and struggles, which places their mental health and wellbeing at greater risk than that of the general student cohort
  • Heightened stress can manifest into physical complaints such as stomach pains and headaches
  • Siblings may not have had as many opportunities to develop social skills and therefore lag peers, socially
  • Siblings can often feel alone and marginalised from peers, most of whom don’t understand or share their experiences
  • As they become older, siblings may worry about the future needs of a brother or sister

Siblings may not raise these issues themselves, so it is important for educators to notice the following signs of concern and offer support when they occur:

  • Social isolation
  • Stress & emotional difficulties
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Acting up behaviour
  • Perfectionism & people pleasing
  • Taking on too much responsibility

Supporting siblings enables better opportunities for siblings to reach their learning potential. Addressing mental health and wellbeing needs at school brings a number of benefits to siblings:

  • A feeling of being supported
  • Knowing ‘who to go to’ when things get tough e.g. problems finishing homework when there are additional responsibilities they have at home
  • Having specific strategies to deal with bullying that relates to their brother or sister’s disability or to themselves    
  • A sense of belonging and acceptance
  • Being part of a community that is a safe space that offers some respite to the stressors they may experience at home
  • Developing positive relationships with others, including their brother or sister with disability

Schools also benefit in terms of overall practice improvement and becoming more responsive to individual student need.

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