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How to Handle Sibling Resentment

By Kate Kelly

At a Glance

  • Brothers and sisters of kids with learning and thinking differences might feel overlooked or unappreciated.

  • Try to make sure that each child gets time in the spotlight.

  • Open communication can make a big difference in making all of the children in your family feel loved and valued.

In any family with more than one child, the kids are probably going to compete for their parents’ attention. The competition can heat up when one or more of those children has learning and thinking differences. Brothers and sisters may resent the sibling with learning and thinking differences. Here are some common reasons why—and how you can help keep the peace.

Reason for resentment: “I get less attention.”

How it plays out: Children with learning and thinking differences often require more time and attention from parents to do well in school and stay organized. So it’s no surprise when brothers or sisters feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick.

What you can do: You may not be able to make everything equal between your kids, nor is it necessary. But do be sure that the other kid gets time in the spotlight. Spend one-on-one time together. If the other child gets a good report card or plays in the school band, be sure to note and compliment achievements. And when things aren’t going so well for that child, address those needs, too.

Reason for resentment: “The rules aren’t fair.”

How it plays out: You expect a lot from the child who gets good grades in school and always behaves well. But you accept lower grades and inappropriate behavior from your child who has learning and thinking differences.

What you can do: Make sure your child understands a brother or sister’s learning and thinking differences—and how it affects teachers, parents, siblings and the child himself. But also let your child know that you love all of your kids, no matter what their grades or abilities are.

Reason for resentment: “I have to do more than my share.”

How it plays out: Your child makes up the bed and fixes lunch each day. He may even sometimes take care of his brother or sister with learning and thinking differences. Meanwhile, the child who has learning and thinking differences has no chores, and you take care of lunch and making up the bed.

What you can do: It’s important for children with learning and thinking differences to do as much for themselves as possible. They can have chores just like their siblings. It can help them become more independent. It might also lessen resentment.

Of course, it may take more energy modeling, practicing and explaining how to do these tasks than it would to just do them yourself. But you might find that it’s worth it.

Reason for resentment: “My sibling embarrasses me.”

How it plays out: Your child is embarrassed by the behavior of a brother or sister with learning and thinking differences. Your child doesn’t want to have friends over or be seen in public with the sibling.

What you can do: Try to relate to your child’s feelings. Could your child be trying to protect his sibling from teasing, for instance? Try to arrange for your child to have friends over when his sibling isn’t home. But also help your child brainstorm what to say to friends so that they better understand his sibling’s issues.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s easy to fall into the trap of expecting less and doing more for kids with learning and thinking differences.

  • Siblings notice these differences and might resent them.

  • Each child in the family doesn’t have to be treated the same. But it’s important for all the kids to feel that their needs count.

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