Sibling Issues

Presenter: Dr. Graham Hartkehartke-graham-271sq

View the webinar’s corresponding slide presentation here

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Siblings of special needs children face unique challenges that are often overshadowed by other family needs. They must navigate issues of sharing, fairness, stress, helping out, and understanding. Dr. Hartke speaks about the challenges these siblings and their parents face, as well as strategies to help foster their positive development.


  1. Dr. G. Hartke says:

    Are there any extra suggestions you have for households where all siblings have special needs?

    For households where all siblings have special needs, it can be a real challenge to give children their own space and attention. To help balance the sense of fairness in the household, it can be helpful for parents to schedule individual time with all the children, even if it involves one parent watching the a few siblings and other parent doing a special activity with one child.

  2. Dr. G. Hartke says:

    What is an example of “is fair always equal”?

    An example would be a sibling with a learning disability (LD) needing a math tutor, and the other sibling who excels in math not needing a math tutor. In order for the sibling with a LD to succeed in school he/she needs a math tutor. The sibling without a LD does not need a math tutor to succeed in school. It is fair because both children are being given an opportunity to succeed in school. It is not equal because one sibling has a math tutor and the other does not.

  3. Dr. G. Hartke says:

    Do you have any more suggestions for how to handle the sibling w/out special needs who imitates his sibling with tics?

    It is important to talk to the sibling w/out special needs about their sibling’s tics. Even young children can have some level of understanding about their sibling’s feelings. It could be helpful to explain to them that it does not help their sibling when they imitate the tics. If this is a real challenge for a family I recommend speaking with a psychologist or other mental health professional who has experience working with tics. In some cases a behavior plan could be created with the sibling who does not have tics to reinforce when they do not imitate tics.

  4. Dr. G. Hartke says:

    What are some signs that a sibling without special needs might be struggling, particularly if they are “the gifted child” and seem to
    have it all together?

    Some signs might include, but are not limited to, withdrawing from social interactions, becoming more clingy and attached to parents, irritability, appearing nervous or on edge (shaking, hyper vigilant), and changes in sleep patterns and/or poor sleep. It is important for parents to check in with these siblings on a regular basis about how they are feeling.

  5. Dr. G. Hartke says:

    You touched on this briefly, but would appreciate your comments about any studies you are aware of that have followed kids thru adulthood to see of their early relationship problems with their sibs smooth out when they finally “grow up”?

    Good question. As I brought up in the webinar, research has shown that conflict in sibling relationships generally decreases with age. This does not necessarily speak to the warmth between siblings though. So there could be less fighting, but not necessarily more warmth. Each sibling relationship is unique.

  6. Dr. G. Hartke says:

    You talked about family game night – that can be complicated even with the best of intentions. We are playing a simple board game and the 10 year old with anxiety/OCD can’t stay focused, walks around the room waiting for his turn, we keep calling him back to engage in the game, throws the dice so hard they fall on the floor etc. Not only creates an environment where his sibs do not want to play with him, but extends the time we have allotted for game playing before getting ready for bed. Any suggestions?

    The idea is to find a family activity that would work with your family. Game night was an example, but that might not be a good choice for your family. Perhaps doing a family activity in smaller groups (example: just dad and the TS sibling), or watching a TV show/movie together might be better options.