6 tips for helping kids understand siblings who learn and think differently

Many siblings have times when they don’t get along. They may argue, tease, and call each other names. It happens in families with or without a child with learning and thinking differences like dyslexia and ADHD.

But when a child in the family learns and thinks differently, it can make sibling relationships more complicated. That’s especially true when that child has behavior challenges.

Here are six things I suggest parents do to help kids be more understanding of their sibling’s challenges and differences.

1. Prepare for a variety of emotions.

Be aware of your child’s feelings. Kids who don’t have differences may have many emotions related to having a sibling who does. They may:

  • Resent the time parents are out of the home at appointments with their sibling

  • Feel angry about not getting as much attention

  • Be embarrassed by public incidents

  • Worry about their sibling’s well-being

  • Feel pressured to be an overachiever

Keep all this in mind when you address sibling conflicts at home.

2. Be aware of how much rivalry is too much.

Sibling rivalry is normal. So before you respond, think about how often your kids fight and how intense the negative comments are. Let’s say your child without differences gets angry and yells “I hate you” when their sibling doesn’t share a toy. That comment in that situation may only call for a time-out and an apology.

It’s different if these exchanges happen often and your child is showing emotional changes. Then you may want to consider getting extra help.

3. Be a good communicator.

Help your kids understand their sibling’s challenges. Share information that’s appropriate for their age. And don’t just talk about difficulties. Talk about your child’s strengths to help their siblings stay positive.

Be open and honest. Kids feel more comfortable when they understand something. Knowing they can bring questions to you helps them feel empowered.

4. Be consistent.

Set similar expectations in terms of rules, responsibilities, and discipline. This helps siblings to get along. Recognize each child’s strengths. And try not to burden your typically developing child with extra-high expectations.

5. Spend time alone with siblings

Carve out time each week to spend alone with your typically developing child. This attention may make them less jealous about how much you focus on their sibling’s learning and thinking differences.

6. Look for teachable moments.

Keep an eye out for flare-ups and other incidents. Think of them as chances to work on communication. Emphasize how challenging life can be for all of you — that’s why you need to support each other.

With good communication, your kids may get more patient with each other and tolerant of differences. Get tips to deepen sibling relationships.


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