At a glance
It’s only natural that your other kids will have questions about a sibling who learns and thinks differently.
You can help by steering conversations in a positive direction.
Answer your kids’ questions directly and honestly.
If you feel like you don’t know what to say when your other kids are asking about their sibling who learns and thinks differently, you’re not alone. Kids are perceptive. They’re likely to notice that their sibling is struggling. And they’ll probably have questions.
Use these conversation tips to help make honest and appropriate replies — and support all of the kids in your family.
“Why are things so much harder for my sibling?”
What to say: “Your sibling sometimes acts differently than other kids because they have something called . Every child has some things they’re better at and some things that are harder for them. Your sibling is really great at telling jokes. But it’s hard for your sibling to concentrate on one thing for very long. Sometimes they may get restless or frustrated.”
Keep in mind: You’ll have many discussions with your kids over the years. You don’t have to cover everything in one conversation. Use plain language and give only as much detail as your other kids really need right now.
“Will I get it, too?”
What to say: “You can’t ‘catch’ what your sibling has the way you might catch a cold. But if you need some extra help with school or getting along at home, we can get you any help that you need, too.”
Keep in mind: When talking about your child’s challenges, remind your other kids that those concerns are only one small part of who their sibling is.
“Why does my sibling need so much help?”
What to say: “Your sibling gets help from special teachers, tutors, doctors, and therapists. They’re working together to help your sibling learn how to read better and to focus on what they’re doing. I know it’s hard for you that we’re away so much, but it’s important that we go to these meetings.”
“Why is my sibling so hard to play with?”
What to say: “Your sibling isn’t trying to be difficult. They just have trouble understanding how other people react to them. That can make your sibling hard to be around sometimes. And it can mean it’s tough for making friends.”
Keep in mind: As you explain your child’s challenges to your other kids, imagine them repeating the explanation to peers. This will help you keep your language positive and encouraging when addressing your other kids’ complaints.
“Why is my sibling in a special classroom?”
What to say: “Your sibling gets the specific help they need from the special teachers in their classroom. Those teachers are part of the team that’s helping your sibling work on organization skills.”
Keep in mind: Be sure to stress that your child learns about the same subjects and has similar studies as other siblings. Remind your other kids how alike their classrooms are, with the exception of a few differences.
“Will my sibling ever get better?”
What to say: “Your sibling is making progress all the time. Remember when they couldn’t read a whole page? Now your sibling can read chapter books. Your sibling gets special help to learn in the way that works best for them.”
Keep in mind: Your child’s accommodations may seem like a big burden. Point it out whenever you notice progress in any of your kids. This is great for self-esteem. And it helps all your children recognize that making an effort is worth it.
“What will happen when my sibling gets older?”
What to say: “Your sibling is learning how to be more independent. We can’t know for sure what will happen after high school, but your sibling will have our support. And if they need help from us or from doctors, they’ll have that, too.”
Keep in mind: Reassure your children that they won’t be responsible for their sibling as they get older. Let them know you are (or will be) working together to plan for life after high school.
“How can I help?”
What to say: “You already do such a good job supporting your sibling and showing that you love them. Maybe you two can go to the movies together once a month. Or maybe you can demonstrate how to play your new video game.”
With direct and honest communication, all of your kids will feel supported by you.
Keep conversations upbeat and always leave room for questions.
Regular chats can even curtail sibling rivalry and strengthen their bond.
About the author
About the author
Lexi Walters Wright is the former community manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Elizabeth Harstad, MD, MPH is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.