Creating Positive Experiences for Siblings  

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Siblings share a unique and special bond, experiencing many years of family life together and finding emotional support in each other. 

Emotional and Social Development 

Siblings often serve as a primary source of emotional support and development for each other. Interacting with siblings allows children to develop essential social-emotional skills, such as communication, negotiation, conflict resolution, and empathy. Practicing emotional support and social interaction in a safe and familiar environment supports their development. 

Companionship and Conflict Resolution Skills  

Growing up with siblings can be a wonderful experience as they provide built-in playmates and friends. This companionship can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. However, it is important to understand that expecting siblings to always get along without disagreements is unrealistic.  

Disagreements provide valuable opportunities for children to learn how to navigate and resolve conflicts constructively. These skills are crucial for developing effective problem-solving and communication abilities. 

Rivalry and Cooperation 

Dealing with sibling rivalry can be difficult, but it can also provide opportunities to learn valuable lessons in cooperation, compromise, and understanding. When children learn to share and work together, they develop a sense of teamwork, which can be helpful in many areas of life. Also, navigating relationships and making compromises can help siblings take turns leading. At the same time, the other follows, allowing them to experience both roles and learn to appreciate the opinions and thoughts of others. 

Nurturing Sibling Relationships When One Has a Disability 

Observing your children’s bond grow and strengthen over time is a rewarding experience. But how does one create a supportive and nurturing environment when one of the siblings has a disability, such as blindness, low vision, deafblindness, or multiple disabilities?  

If one child requires additional support or therapies, the following can help all of your children receive the care and attention they need. 

Encourage Open Communication 

Create an environment where siblings feel comfortable expressing their feelings and needs. Encourage open communication between the siblings to understand each other’s perspectives and challenges better.  

Promote Sibling Bonds 

Model and encourage positive sibling interactions and create opportunities for bonding through activities. To do so, encourage shared interest in hobbies, games, and experiences that are accessible for all siblings to enjoy.  For example, encourage them to create their own handshake and watch it develop over time.   

Teach Empathy and Understanding 

Provide age-appropriate language to sighted siblings about their sibling who has a visual diagnosis (and/or additional diagnosis). Discuss how it impacts their daily life, how to support without enabling, how to advocate and educate others, and how to model and promote positive social engagement with their sibling.  

Assign Age-Appropriate Responsibilities 

Give all siblings age-appropriate responsibilities within the family. This reinforces a sense of equality and fairness between siblings. It also encourages siblings to work together and find ways to make tasks accessible through problem-solving and innovations if needed.    

Encourage Independence and Problem-Solving 

Your home environment allows all siblings to develop independence and problem-solving skills. Model innovation and problem-solving.  

Celebrate Individual Achievements 

While your children’s achievements may differ, the family can celebrate them. Each child can feel valued and appreciated for their accomplishments.   

Evolving Sibling Relationships 

Sibling relationships will evolve and change as children grow. The dynamics are influenced by various factors, including age difference, personalities, shared experiences, and, in the case of one sibling who is blind or has low vision, the need for additional support and understanding.   

You can expect the following dynamics: 

Early Childhood (Ages 0-6) 

In the early years, siblings may have a mix of love and rivalry. They are still developing their social skills and may play together while experiencing occasional conflicts. If one sibling has a visual diagnosis, the sighted sibling may naturally take on a protective and nurturing role. They may also not fully understand why the sibling needs extra support or therapies, which may cause jealousy or other negative feelings. Help the siblings navigate times when one may need more of your time and energy. Making time to provide for the other siblings is important.   

Middle Childhood (Ages 7-12) 

As children grow older, their sibling bond may become stronger. They share more activities, interests, and secrets. You may find that siblings work together for a common goal, especially when trying to convince parents of something.   

Early Adolescence (Ages 13-17) 

Sibling relationships can become more complex during adolescence. There may be rivalry and conflict but also increased emotional support and understanding. Each child’s experience and desire for social inclusion is complex, and you may find that siblings lean on each other to help navigate adolescence. Adolescence may include dating, learning to drive or travel independently, and nerves about high school ending and adulthood beginning. 

Late Adolescence and College (Ages 18+) 

As siblings become young adults, they may develop separate lives and interests, potentially leading to increased independence from each other. It will require time, effort, and creativity to stay connected. Their experiences growing up will continue to provide emotional and practical support as they make future transitions in their adult lives.   

 When to Include Sighted Siblings 

Including sighted siblings in therapies or activities with your child who is blind or has low vision can be beneficial in many ways. It can foster understanding, empathy, and support within the family. Siblings can sometimes teach each other and reinforce skills and concepts between sessions. However, including siblings may not always be appropriate.   

Opportunities to Include Siblings 

Family Therapy Sessions 

Consider involving siblings and other family members who may support your child during PT, OT, ST, TVI/DTVI, or O&M. It is an opportunity for others to learn the best strategies and ways to play or support your child who is blind or has low vision.   

Sibling Support Groups 

Look for sibling support groups or workshops specifically designed for the sibling of an individual who is blind or has low vision. These groups can provide a safe space for siblings to share their experiences, feelings, and challenges while learning from one another.  

Orientation and Mobility Training 

If your child is receiving O&M lessons, include other siblings to participate in some sessions when appropriate. This can help them better understand their sibling’s daily challenges and learn how to assist when needed.  

Sensory Activities 

Organize sensory activities that all siblings can enjoy. Engaging in multisensory experiences together can deepen their bond and create shared memories.  

Awareness Events, Workshops, and Conferences 

Organized events in the community or specific diagnosis conferences allow your children to connect with others who are blind or have low vision and their families. These events may have specific sessions for siblings, parents, or other family members. They can also help create a supportive and inclusive environment. 

When Not to Include Siblings 

Age and Maturity 

Consider the age and maturity level of a sibling. Younger children may not fully comprehend certain therapy discussions or concepts and may distract your child who is blind or low vision. Being fully present during these sessions is important. Siblings may need a separate activity when your child needs individual time with a service provider.   

Privacy and Individual Needs 

Some therapy sessions may address sensitive topics or specific needs to your child who is blind or has low vision. It is appropriate to maintain privacy and focus on individual support. Talk with your service provider before the session to gather information on topics addressed so you can determine if siblings can be present.  

Sibling Conflict 

If unresolved conflicts or tensions exist between siblings, it might be best to address these issues before including them in the therapy session if possible. Sibling relationships are crucial in shaping a child’s emotional and social development. Their dynamic can be rewarding and complex when one sibling is blind or has low vision.  

Each therapy and session needs careful consideration for involving other siblings or family members to help your child who is blind or has low vision gain the most out of their session. Being creative and prepared for the times when it is best not to include siblings will help each session reach its full potential.  

In summary, the experiences shared, the support provided, and the challenges faced together contribute to a unique and lasting bond that can positively impact a person’s life journey. When a family has open communication, mutual understanding, and a supportive environment, the sibling relationship can grow and evolve positively, providing a strong foundation for both siblings as they navigate life’s challenges beyond living under one roof.