By Lexi Walters Wright
Your other children are likely to notice their sibling’s learning or attention issues and have questions. These conversation tips can help you reply honestly and appropriately—and support all your children.
What to say: “Your brother sometimes acts differently than other kids because he has something called ADHD. Every kid has some things he is good at and some things that are harder for him. Your brother is really great at telling jokes but it’s hard for him to concentrate on one thing for very long. So sometimes he may get restless or frustrated.”
Keep in mind: You’ll have many discussions with your kids over the years about your child’s issues, so you don’t have to cover everything in this one. Use plain language and give only as much detail as your other children will really understand right now.
What to say: “You can’t ‘catch’ what your brother has, the way you might catch a cold. But if you needed some extra help with school or getting along at home, we would notice and get you any help that you needed, too.”
Keep in mind: When talking about your child’s issues, remind your other kids that those issues are only one small part of who their sibling is. Be sure to emphasize all the ways he’s just like them.
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. 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 any of your children’s feelings of anger, jealousy, shame or resentment. Sibling rivalry can be difficult to watch, but it’s totally normal. And you can help alleviate it.
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 issues to your other children, imagine them repeating the explanation to other kids. That may help you keep your language positive and encouraging when addressing your other kids’ complaints.
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: Emphasize that your child learns about the same sorts of subjects as his siblings. Remind your children how similar their classrooms are, with the exception of a few specific differences.
What to say: “Your brother is making progress all the time! Remember when he couldn’t read a whole page, and now he can read chapter books? He gets special help so that his brain continues to learn.”
Keep in mind: Your child’s accommodations may seem burdensome to his siblings (or even himself sometimes). Point out to him and his siblings how he’s progressing: It’s great for his self-esteem. And it helps all your children recognize that the effort is worth it.
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 he gets older. Let them know you are (or will be) working together to plan for life after high school.
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 Skylanders.”
Keep in mind: Encourage siblings to invite your child on outings with and without other friends. Ask them to be “upstanders” for him at school and in the community. Have them tell you if they see any signs of bullying and praise their strong relationship with him.
Lexi Walters Wright is veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Elizabeth Harstad, M.D., M.P.H., is a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital.
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