Supporting siblings of a child with a visible difference

It can be difficult for siblings of a child with a visible difference. We explore some of the worries they might have and how you can support them.

When a child has a visible difference, it affects everyone in the family to some degree. Most siblings cope well when they are supported to understand and accept their brother or sister’s difference.

However, it can be difficult for siblings and on this page, we explore some of the worries they might have and how you can support them as a parent or carer.

Concerns you might have about siblings

We sometimes hear from parents who have concerns about how their other children might be affected by their sibling’s visible difference. You might be worried that:

  • You don’t spend enough time with your other children.
  • You spend time away from your other children due to hospital stays and medical appointments.
  • Other children don’t get as much attention from other family members – or receive too much attention, to the detriment of the child who has a visible difference.
  • Other children are being bullied because their sibling has a visible difference.
  • Siblings may be anxious, upset or worried about what is happening to their brother or sister.

Sometimes, siblings might feel they have to always be on their best behaviour – or they might misbehave to get attention. This can be difficult for parents because you have to:

  • Manage difficult behaviour, or;
  • Support children who have tried to suppress the usual range of emotions that children express.

Helping children understand their sibling’s visible difference

One way to help siblings is to help them to learn about their brother or sister’s visible difference. The way you choose to do this may depend on their age and personality but could include:

  • Sitting down with them and telling them a little bit about the reason for your other child’s condition, mark or scar, then giving them the chance to ask questions.
  • Setting them a project – giving them the name of the condition, mark or scar then asking them to do some research and report back to you. You could even ask them to deliver a presentation or have creative fun with our popular butterfly pack (PDF).
  • If the child with a visible difference is comfortable talking about their condition – for example, if they are a much older sibling – you could arrange some time for them to talk.

Remember that if you involve your child with visible difference, this should only be if they are comfortable and happy to participate. If you are setting a project and feel it is best that the child with a visible difference is not involved, make this clear to their sibling so that they do not ask them questions.

Helping siblings answer questions from others

Your child may face questions from other children about their sibling’s visible difference. It might also be helpful to talk about ways of responding to questions like these. Some examples include:

  • “This is my sister. She’s got a birthmark. Do you want to play with us?”
  • “David is my younger brother. He has one small ear. Do you have a brother too?”

Make it clear that if they are asked nasty or malicious questions, this is not acceptable and they should tell you or another adult. You could share the following resources for them to read. They are written for children with a visible difference but we hope they will also be useful to their siblings:

You could encourage them to go away and read these then come back with any questions, or you could look at them together.

Checking in with siblings

Every so often, you may like to check in with your child to make sure they are OK and that they are not worrying about their sibling’s visible difference or being treated badly. You may want to explore the following questions, although we would recommend raising these topics in a gentle and indirect way:

  • Do they understand their sibling’s visible difference?
  • Are they happy at school and with their friends?
  • Are they being bullied?

It is particularly worth checking in if you sense something is wrong, such as if your child is not quite themselves or behaves differently to normal around the sibling who has a visible difference.

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