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 brother?”
What to say: “Your brother sometimes acts differently than other kids because he has something called . Every kid has some things they’re better at and some things that are harder for them. Your brother is really great at telling jokes. But it’s hard for him to concentrate on one thing for very long. Sometimes he 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 brother 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 he need so much help?”
What to say: “Your brother gets help from special teachers, tutors, doctors, and therapists. They’re working together to help him learn how to read better and to focus on what he’s doing. I know it’s hard for you that we’re away so much, but it’s important that we go to these meetings.”
Keep in mind: Acknowledge your child’s feelings of anger, jealousy, shame, or resentment. Sibling rivalry can be difficult to watch, but it’s totally normal.
“Why is he so hard to play with?”
What to say: “Your brother isn’t trying to be difficult. He just has trouble understanding how other people react to him. That can make him hard to be around sometimes. And it can mean it’s tough for him to make 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 he in a special classroom?”
What to say: “Your brother gets the specific help he needs from the special teachers in his classroom. They’re part of the team that’s helping him work on his 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 he ever get better?”
What to say: “Your brother is making progress all the time. Remember when he couldn’t read a whole page? Now he can read chapter books. He gets special help so he can learn in the way that works best for him.”
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 he gets older?”
What to say: “Your brother is learning how to be more independent. We can’t know for sure what he’ll do after high school, but he’ll have our support. And if he needs help from us or from doctors, he’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 .
“How can I help?”
What to say: “You already do such a good job supporting him and showing that you love him. Maybe you two can go to the movies together once a month. Or maybe you can show him how to play your new video game.”
Keep in mind: Encourage siblings to invite your child on outings with and without other friends. Ask them to be “upstanders,” encouraging and supporting their sibling at school and in the community. Have them tell you if they see any signs of bullying and always praise their strong relationship.
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.
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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.