How Can I Help My Kids When Their Sibling Is In Treatment?

The siblings of a troubled child who is struggling with behavioral or mental health issues might be impacted by the family crisis. On the surface, siblings might appear to be doing fine. Parents might not see any problems with their other kids, or their attention might be focused so much more on the troubled child. As parents, we should make sure to check-in with our other children, as they might have issues occurring below the surface.

How Do Siblings Cope With Stress in the Family?

Siblings notice the crisis occurring in the home while one family member struggles. They see the stress that the crisis puts upon parents. They may still be having their own problems or having difficulty processing what is happening. They might feel neglected or are not getting the attention that they need. However, despite all this, siblings of a troubled child might fear adding to parents’ stress and do not want to “rock the boat.”

Children can cope with the current crisis of addiction or other problematic behaviors of a sibling in a range of their own maladaptive behaviors. Some include:

  • Perfectionism: thinking that by being perfect themselves, they can alleviate some of the family stress. 
  • Withdrawal: After feeling ignored or neglected, siblings might withdraw from the family and themselves. These children might not develop skills for developing relationships, thinking they can only rely on themselves. 
  • Rebellion: Other siblings rebel or emulate the troubled sibling’s behaviors, believing this is the only way to get attention.

What Are Signs That My Children Are Struggling to Cope With the Family Crisis?

Robby Bruza and Lindsey Chadwick discuss some of these signs with Beyond Risk and Back podcast host and Fire Mountain co-founder Aaron Huey. Kids can deal with family stress differently, which can manifest as behavioral or physical symptoms. These are some signs to look for in your other children as they grow up in the current crisis:

  • They experience health symptoms with no illness or physical cause, like chronic stomach aches, headaches, and sleeping issues. These symptoms can be a manifestation of stress and anxiety.
  • They report pain or other injuries with no physical cause to explain the pain. 
  • They develop eating problems. Whether they are over-eating or under-eating, appetite changes can be due to anxiety.
  • They do not trust adults. They feel that adults are not paying attention to them, or they might blame adults for the issues their sibling is dealing with.
  • Feelings of paranoia or extreme worry that something terrible is going to happen. While in the home with a family member having a behavior crisis, a sibling lives in a chaotic situation. Kids can generalize the home environment to their understanding of the outside world.
  • Children with no sense of “child-like” fun might be assuming responsibility for the crisis or do not want to cause more issues. These can be kids who are extremely serious and not care-free.

What Can I Do to Help my Other Children?

Parents might struggle with giving an equal amount of attention to all of their children while dealing with problematic behaviors. You might ask, “how can I help my other kids when I’m in-and-out of the ER with one kid?” or “how do I pay attention to my other children when all of my attention goes to ‘putting out fires’ and dealing with emergencies?” 

Being the parent of a child with challenging issues like drug use, alcohol addiction, suicidal behaviors, cutting, or other problems, can take up so much time that parents become overwhelmed. Often, parents know that they are not giving as much attention to their other children and feel guilty, yet also feel helpless due to the current crisis. Open and honest communication can be crucial to help your other children process the current situation.

Have Honest Conversations With Your Kids

If you have one child dealing with severe struggles that cause disruptions and chaos within your home, your other children will likely experience the tension. They might feel worried about their sibling or their parents dealing with these issues, but not know how to communicate their feelings and worries.

  • Reassure Your Children:
    • Younger kids especially think that everything in the world revolves around them before reaching certain developmental milestones.
    • Let your children know that the problems with their siblings are not their fault.
  • Ask Them Questions/Answer Their Questions:
    • Find out their perspective by asking what questions and feelings they have about the current situation.
    • When your kids ask you questions, answer them honestly. If you do not have answers for them, say, “I’m not sure, but I will find out the answers.”
    • Follow-through with answering these questions!
  • Model Coping Skills:
    • Children will follow the example of their parents when they deal with stress.
    • If our kids say that they feel sad or worried, parents can share ideas on how they deal with stress.
    • For example, you can say: “When I’m upset, I talk to my best friend about my feelings” or “I go to a weekly group to talk about what is going on.”

The siblings of a troubled child might have their own struggles as they try to comprehend and cope with the current family crisis. When siblings grow up seeing their parents stressed out and overwhelmed due to caring for another child with addiction and other behavioral issues, siblings can feel this tension. Siblings might be overly worried about their parents and their sibling. Parents can help their children by fostering an environment of open and honest communication. As parents, we might not know the words to use or how to communicate complex issues with our kids. If you and your family are in need of support, Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center of Estes Park, Colorado, can help you. We offer help for kids, as well as, support for parents and other family members. Call us today at (303) 443-3343 and visit our podcast for more tips. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest!

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