It’s one of those challenges that all families affected by a Congenital Heart Defects (CHD) face…how to keep the balance amongst siblings. There are so many issues that come into play when considering how to treat your children who are not afflicted with a CHD. There’s a fine line – you don’t want to burden them with too many responsibilities or make them feel less important, yet you also don’t want to spoil them to overcompensate for the fact that so much attention is paid to their ill sibling. How do you handle it? Where do you turn for advice? We’ve compiled some tips and advice that was gathered from other parents, online resources, as well as publications by child psychologists.
· While it is very important that all siblings be informed about your family’s specific CHD situation, it’s important to set an example that it’s not something we have to dwell on every day. All children want to live as normal a life as possible. So, by educating your children about CHD rather than making it a daily focus, you’ll be off to a great start in establishing a balance amongst your children and your entire family as well.
· Allow your children who do not have a CHD to choose a specific responsibility in order to empower them. This will let them know that you value their help yet you won’t be burdening them with too many expectations. For example, maybe a sibling can simply be a reading buddy for your child with a CHD.
· Remember to let all your children know how much you appreciate their help. If they happen to be too young to actually be of any significant help at the moment, you can always tell them how much you appreciate their understanding and patience when you have to assist or focus on their sibling who is sick.
· Although it can be tempting for many parents, avoid spoiling your other children in an effort to make up for the attention you feel you’re giving your child with a CHD. Spoiling them can include giving an abundance of material items, too much attention, or even treating them with kid gloves as though they’re too fragile to handle your family’s situation. They will grow up with a sense of entitlement or even resentment. Kids are smart – they will eventually realize why you’re spoiling them and will in many cases feel like they didn’t truly earn the things you gave them or the over-attentiveness you showed them.
· Encourage your children to express their feelings. Talking can be such a powerful tool when it comes to children. It doesn’t matter their age – you can always adjust your conversations by using developmentally appropriate language to answer their questions or respond to their statements. Be truthful yet simple and to the point with your children. One story we came across involved an older sibling who asked why his little brother was sick; he thought he did something wrong. In this situation, it was suggested that the parents have a real conversation with explanations that were simple and truthful. For example, you might say “You didn’t do anything wrong; your brother just has a special heart. We’re all special in our own ways.” Sometimes, it may seem impossible to discuss CHD related topics with your children; however, it’s much wiser to at least let them know you heard them and are willing to try a discussion rather than simply changing the subject.
At the end of each day, this whole issue does tend to feel like quite the balancing act. However, it is so important to make a conscious effort to remember to think about how you’re treating all your children. Do they feel equally important? Is one child feeling neglected or perhaps, on the other hand, that you’re actually being over-attentive to him/her? These are questions we can stop and ask ourselves each day to try to keep that balance and ensure that our children sense that balance amongst their sibling relationships.