Sisters playing togetherOver recent years, people have become more and more aware of the effect on children of having a brother or sister with a disability. This page provides information about the concerns and feelings of siblings and some practical ideas for parents and others about how best to support siblings.

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The importance of siblings

The relationship between siblings is a very special one, quite different from the one that we have with our parents. In general, all sibling relationships involve a mixture of emotions, such as, love, hate, jealousy and loyalty. Siblings spend a lot of time together, not only during childhood, but often for the rest of their lives. The relationship can grow in importance, especially as parents get older. How siblings get on with one another can influence the way each child develops and can have an impact on the whole family.

Siblings of children with disability

Siblings often have a very close relationship with their disabled brother or sister, and many good things can come out of this relationship, for example, the sibling can become more tolerant, mature, responsible, self confident, independent, kind, and be more sensitive to the needs of disabled people (Lobato, 1990). Sometimes, however, having a child with a disability in the family creates challenges that other families may not have to go through, and some of these challenges can directly affect the sibling.

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Common concerns of siblings

Not all siblings will experience negative feelings towards their brother or sister with a disability. Some children adjust well, while others have a more difficult time. Some children may even appear to be coping well but there may be some signs that they are feeling stressed by the situation, for example, they may lose their temper easily, withdraw, have nightmares or show ‘clingy’ behaviour. There may also be different reactions depending on whether the sibling is younger or older than the child with the disability. While these individual differences do exist, many siblings have similar concerns from time to time. These include feeling:

  • anger, jealousy and resentment
  • guilt
  • embarrassment
  • fear
  • loneliness
  • sadness
  • frustration
  • pressure from parents and others
  • overburdened with responsibilities
  • worry about the future.

What parents can do

Most siblings cope very well with their childhood experiences and sometimes feel strengthened by them. They seem to do best when parents, and other adults in their lives can accept their brother or sister's disability and clearly value them as an individual. The following suggestions may help parents deal with worries and difficulties that are bound to arise from time to time:

  • Focus on the sibling to let them know that they are important.
  • Have realistic expectations and provide support.
  • Listen to your child and encourage open communication, recognising and respecting their thoughts and feelings.
  • Provide clear and accurate information about their brother or sister's disability.
  • Give them an opportunity to get involved in activities they enjoy.

View the factsheet  Sibling's Concerns - How Parents Can Help (PDF - 49Kb).

Disclaimer: General information only - you should consult with the relevant professional before using it with a particular child. See disclaimer details.

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How Novita can help

Novita psychologists can provide the following assistance:

Sibling Workshops

Sibling workshop-boardgame - photo Sibling workshops can be very valuable for children who may not want to burden their family with their problems and may feel more comfortable talking with others, especially other children who may be feeling the same as them. More importantly, research has shown that contact with  peers can actually help children adjust to having a sibling with a disability (Meyer & Vadasy, 1994). This peer contact and support can occur through sibling workshops. Previous workshops have been very popular with siblings.

The aims of sibling workshops (Mayer and Vadasy, 1994) are to:

  • provide siblings with an opportunity to meet other siblings in a relaxed and fun setting
  • let children talk to others about their situation and learn that they are not alone in their experiences
  • encourage siblings to recognise and identify their positive and negative feelings about their brother or sister with a disability
  • help siblings to learn how others handle situations they experience, for example, how to cope with negative reactions of others to their brother or sister's behaviour or appearance
  • teach siblings more about the effect of their brother or sister's disability
  • allow siblings to have some ‘special time’ to address their concerns, by being the centre of attention, and having some fun
  • provide parents with an opportunity to learn about common sibling worries and ways to deal with them (this can happen if there is a parent discussion group that happens at the same time).

After such groups, some parents have said that it has made it easier for them to talk about the disability at home, because the sibling felt more comfortable about bringing the disability up in conversation.

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The psychologist can:

  • listen to the sibling's point of view
  • speak directly to siblings to provide information and advice
  • provide support to help meet the needs of siblings and parents, as well as the child with a disability.

For more information, contact a psychologist at a Novita office.

Helpful books

The following books may be obtained through the Novita Toy & Resource Centre. If you are registered with the Centre, you can borrow them by completing the on-line request form.

  • Faber, A & Mazlish, E (1988). Siblings without rivalry: how to help your children live together so you can live too. New York, Avon Books
  • Lobato, D J (1990). Brothers, sisters, and special needs: Information and activities for helping young siblings of children with chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities. Paul H. Brookes, Baltimore
  • Meyer, D J & Vadasy, P F (1994). Sibshops: Workshops for siblings of children with special needs.  Paul H. Brookes, Baltimore
  • Meyer, D J, Vadasy, P F & Fewell, R R (1985). Living with a brother or sister with special needs: A book for sibs. University of Washington Press, Seattle
  • Strohm, K (2002). Siblings: Brothers and sisters of children with special needs.  Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia
  • Woolfson, R C (1995). Sibling Rivalry. Thorsons, London

Disclaimer Detail: The information on this website is of a general nature only and does not constitute advice. Novita Children's Services makes no representations as to the accuracy, usefulness, suitability or application of the information to a child's particular circumstances. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on the information. In using this site, you are agreeing to the Terms and Conditions of Use for the site. 



The exchange of information, ideas or feelings between people.


People of equal standing, for example the 'peers' of a student are other students.


Brothers and sisters.

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