One of the hardest things that a child can have to deal with is having a brother or sister who is suffering from a mental or physical disability of some sort. If the two siblings are often seen in public—for instance, if they go to the same school together or participate in the same activities—then they are going to have to deal with the presence of other children. For that reason it is important to help children the needs of members of their peer group whose sibling has a handicap.
1) How young children think about each other
In order to help children understand each other, one must take into account how they develop psychologically. In most societies children learn standards of behavior by the time they reach the age of five. It is at this stage that they should be taught how to behave towards their peers who have disabled brothers or sisters. Among the principles that they should be made to understand are the following:
Disabled children are deserving of the same kind of respect as are all other children. They must not be made fun of or avoided because they are not in any way to blame for their handicaps. The same goes true for their brothers and sisters—and for all other members of their families.
They must avoid discussing the sibling’s disability completely. A disabled family member is a personal matter and should not be allowed to enter into extra-familial relationships of any kind, including friendships between peers.
The golden rule applies here just as it does in all other areas of interpersonal relationships. How would you like to be treated if you were that other person?
2) Differences in age
Because of the age differences between them, siblings often attend different schools, have different sets of friends and engage in different activities. They thus spend much of their time away from each other and there are relatively few occasions on which they cross paths. On those occasions on which they do, the siblings should be taught to give each other as much space and as much respect as possible so that the non-challenged sibling is not embarrassed by the other’s behavior. If something unpleasant does occur, then appropriate disciplinary measures should be taken.
3) Sara’s Secret
It might be worthwhile to read the book Sara’s Secret by Suzanne Wanous. This is a story about an elementary school girl who is ashamed to let her class know that she has a brother who has cerebral palsy. Finally she succeeds in overcoming that sense of shame and even brings her brother before the class in his wheelchair. The book is one of the most touching that anyone can read, being made all the more so by the vivid watercolor illustrations that appear throughout. Said one reviewer: “I thought this was a touching portrayal of the difficulties a sibling of a handicapped child would feel.”
4) Support groups
One of the best things that one can do is to form a support group for physically or mentally disabled children in the community. Many of these types of groups exist in various neighborhoods and communities and they not only improve the lives of these children, but also spreads awareness and understanding. If you find an appropriate place and have adequate support, all children would be welcome at the group. You could hold meetings regularly to do many activities together—arts and crafts, sports such as basketball, baseball and bike riding, and nonphysical games such as Sorry! and Yahtzee. Siblings and cousins of disabled children also take part in activities to create a positive community. It is really a wonderful thing to have in your neighborhood.
As the classic Hollies song goes, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.”
Katelyn is an associate with abf portable storage containers; a company dedicated to keeping children safe and healthy.
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