More Ways to Balance Affection
Let Kids Explore Their Own Interests
Encouraging your child to embrace an activity that's his alone will help him feel he's stepped out of his sibling's shadow. "Part of giving a child a positive identity means finding out what he's interested in," Dr. Lawlis says. If your kid doesn't have a hobby that his sibling isn't involved in, help him discover something he can feel good about. If he loves to move, you might sign him up for some rock-climbing sessions. If he's always taking over your iPod, maybe he'd enjoy guitar lessons.
This approach worked for Lea Guse, of Appleton, Wisconsin, whose firstborn struggles with emotional and behavioral disorders. When her youngest, Jessica, was 6, she signed her up for a dance class. "The best thing about dance is that it's Jessica's alone," Guse explains. "The other students don't talk about what her brother was doing at lunch like they do at school. Plus, the time I spend driving her and talking about dance is time she doesn't have to share with him."
Be Honest with Your Kid
The truth is that you and your partner may not be able to give your children equal attention. It can help to be upfront about it when your kid complains, Dr. Walfish says. Try: "I spend a lot of time at your sister's tutoring sessions. I know that's really frustrating. I would feel the same way if I were you." Acknowledging her resentment won't necessarily make it disappear, but she'll feel better knowing that she's been heard. And learning to handle disappointment is actually key for her in the long run. "It will help her grow up to be a resilient adult who can accept letdowns and bounce back quickly," Dr. Walfish explains.
Similarly, it's important to be open with your child about any changes to her sibling's diagnosis or treatment program. "Kids may fear what they don't know, and what they're thinking is often worse than the reality," Dubner notes. "Even if they don't say 'Mom, I'm scared,' their behavior may shift because they're uneasy." Talking about the situation in language your child can understand will help her feel comfortable with what's going on and how the family will deal with it.
Indeed, taking this approach worked wonders for Buchman's daughter, Charlotte. When Buchman started taking her along to her son's doctor's appointments, it cut down on her youngest's tantrums. "We saw how she reacted to hearing the physicians talk about Philip's upcoming surgery and could address her concerns right away," Buchman notes. Moreover, including Charlotte in big discussions sent her the message that she mattered and was as important a part of the family as everyone else.