We are a family of five – My husband Rhys, myself, a son and two daughters. Our children were born exactly 20 months apart from their older siblings and most of the time we do life well together with lots of fun and laughter. But it’s not always easy. Sibling relationships can be complicated at the best of times, however two of our children are neurodiverse, ‘out of the box’ thinkers, which has presented some extra challenges for our children’s sibling relationships.
It was our then 3-year-old son who first announced we were expecting the fifth member of our family. We had been sitting on the fence about having another baby and had even got a dog to see if that filled the gap in our family. Not long afterwards we were in the spa pool with the kids talking about who was in our family when our son pointed to my tummy and told us that there was a baby in there … and he was right (I did a pregnancy test the next day).
And it is our Our youngest daughter who is the most adaptable child you’ll ever meet, because she’s had to be. From the minute she arrived she’s been taken here, there and everywhere; fitting her naps, feeds and playtime in around her two older siblings. As time went on and the older two children developed their “quirks” she had to adapt. She’s had to learn that sometimes we have to leave an event early, that there are places we can’t go, and that there are some things other families do that we just can’t.
A couple of few years ago, all three kids were keen to do a family fun run our school was a part of. We signed the family up and rocked up on the day ready to take part. The event started off fine, but a few minutes into it our son flipped out and wanted to go home. We tried to negotiate that one of us would take him home and the other would stay with the girls so that they could finish the race but he wasn’t having a bar of it and wanted everyone to go. Understandably the girls were upset because they were so keen to do the fun run, we were stuck in the middle of wanting to meet the needs of all of our children but our son wasn’t initially prepared to negotiate or compromise. In the end we helped calm him down and he sat out with me while the girls were able to get to the finish line with Rhys.
While our youngest is pretty easy going it’s totally understandable for her to feel that there’s an imbalance in the amount of time, attention and consideration given to one or the other of her siblings over her own, due to their neuro differences, I want to share with you some of the ways we have approached this and what we have found works for us.
1. Developing tolerance through understanding
We have been super honest with all of our children about each other’s neuro-differences. We started talking about Aspergers and Dyslexia using language they’d understand, read books about it together and talked about how it can be different for each child. Now we don’t label it we just say that he’s seeing a situation differently to how you are right now, let’s just hear him out and let him explain it to us. Or she’s trying to understand what we’re asking of her, let’s just slow down for a minute and let her get a better understanding. Talking about it openly and honestly has helped to create more tolerance towards each other and helps each person in our house see each other’s point of view.
2. Seeing things from each other’s perspectives
We have really spent a lot of time helping each of our children see things from every perspective. Our stating point has always been with their perspective, because if we don’t start there they’re not going to be prepared to look at things from another’s perspective. When they have a big emotion happening I sit with them silently, allowing them to experience it and work through it how they ned to. Being neutral and allowing them to express their feelings is hard and takes a lot of practice. Once in a space of calm again, at an appropriate time, we talk about what lead up to that moment, what feelings and needs did we all miss and what could we all do next time to prevent it getting to that point. We also talk about it from the other person’s perspective so they gain an understanding of empathy for others.
As with any siblings, they know each other’s “push points”, however they are getting more and more able to understand if they’re pushing the other too far and when to back off and leave each other alone. This comes one with age, and also with understanding each other.
3. A different way of doing things
It’s so important that we don’t let her feel that her needs are any less important than her siblings because that’s a sure-fire way to plant the seed of resentment. Our family is a bit ‘out of the box’, so we have found different ways of doing things.
Surround yourself with people who can help: Every so often one or both of the girls mention that they can’t go and do things they want because he doesn’t want to come. We make sure we have an awesome support network in place so that they can do the activities they love. Mcackenzie has got friends who whose families will take her with them when they go to places we can’t go, like the zoo or the Easter Show. My parents take her for the weekend every so often so she can do the things she likes to do without consideration of her siblings’ needs. We are so grateful for our support network.
It’s ok to do things apart: There are times when we do family adventures all together, but there are times that If we want to do a family adventure we’ve learnt to split up and take the kids to do slightly different things. For example, if we go to a theme park our older two like to do extreme things while our youngest isn’t so keen. We don’t do loads of things together as a family unit and that works for us. Another example is that we’ve learnt that our son can’t be at the girls’ birthday parties, it just doesn’t work - he can’t handle it when there are too many people around and when it’s not about him – we learnt that the hard way. So, he either goes to a friends’ house or one of us takes him to do something else.
One-on-one time: We have date days or weekends where one of us takes one of the children to do something special just with them. Rhys has taken them on overnight camping trips, or I might take one of the girls to get our nails done or any of them to the movies or an activity of their choice. We rotate whose turn it is and which parent does it.
Being clear and fair: Friday nights are movie nights in our house. We have set a schedule so that each child gets the opportunity to pick a movie and everyone has to watches it.
The last thing I wanted to touch on was the guilt that many parents feel about the amount of time, effort and attention going towards one child. I have had ups and downs about feeling guilty about my eldest two children getting more of my time and attention. I’ve become really good at recognising each child’s specific needs and making sure that they get what they need in that moment. My guilt often relates to making sure I was getting enough one-on-one time with each of them so we make it a priority. We also make it a priority to ensure our youngest daughter gets to do “normal” childhood stuff that she’s so desperate for, as often as possible.
I became a parent coach to help support families, especially ones like ours who have “out-of-the-box” thinkers. I would love to help your family gain a deeper connection with each other and work through ways that you and your children can stop and actually hear what the other person is saying and see it from their point of view. If you would like to find out more about how to achieve family harmony check out my website www.heartcentredparenting.com and see how I can help your family.
Sending you love on your parenting journey,