Ways to Support Siblings
Often the first step in supporting siblings is to recognise them as a vulnerable group and then ensure that they feel listened to and understood.
Health professionals will interact with siblings in different ways. You may be able to intervene directly, or you might have the opportunity to suggest to colleagues or parents how a sibling might be supported. You may regularly see a family that includes a child with disability or chronic illness. The sibling might not attend the appointment, or they may tag along and remain in the waiting room. If you do not have an opportunity to meet with the sibling, you can ask parents about their health and wellbeing. If you do see the sibling, you can interact directly and ask them some questions. Ideas for intervention are below.
If you meet with a teen sibling who is showing signs of anxiety or depression, it will help to understand their perspective and the reasons behind the distress. Teen siblings are often very loyal to their family and are unlikely to attribute their current distress with adverse childhood experiences. By understanding their experiences as a sibling, you will be more able to support them directly or refer to other relevant supports.
Many siblings will cope well, especially if they have strong connections to family, friends and the community. However, even if children cope well, there may still be stresses and they may need support to prevent further problems developing in the future. You can play an important role in assisting families to access services and resources.
Things to consider in relation to siblings of children with disability include:
- Information needs
- Family life
- Social connection
Here are some ideas when talking with parents or with siblings.
- Ask how much the family, including siblings, understand the disability and offer support and information (including books, websites).
- Discuss how the disability impacts family life.
- Where necessary, you could suggest the sibling meet with a school counsellor or be referred to a psychologist via a Mental Health Plan (2710)
- Suggest parents contact Siblings Australia regarding resources/information sessions for parents or sibling programs
- Ensure the whole family are well supported in their journey
- Invite the involvement of siblings in support plans.
- Assist the family to improve their social networks
- Discuss with parents how siblings might have choices in the roles they play and assist parents to plan for the future with the needs of the whole family considered.
- Discuss with parents the benefits of engaging with psychologists or behavioural therapists if the disability makes it difficult for siblings to develop a relationship.
- Develop a relationship with siblings, help them to feel listened to and understood
- If the parent agrees, take time to explain the disability
- Let the sibling know they are not alone, that all siblings can have challenges
- Let them know that it is ok to have and express a mix of feelings – all brothers and sisters have mixed feelings about each other at different times
- Refer a sibling to resources and services which might help them develop skills to cope e.g., books and websites, KidsHelpLine or Headspace, Siblings Australia
- Research if there are any sibling programs in your area for referral
- Consider facilitating a Sibworks program (for 8-12 year olds) through your agency or collaborate with other agencies to co-facilitate
- If the sibling is a teen or adult, refer them to Siblings Australia, which provides information via its website and opportunities to connect with other siblings