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Thinking About Siblings

At Think:Kids we are thinking about whether and how we might create some services in our clinic for siblings.  Parents often voice their concerns about the impact of challenging behavior on siblings, especially when maladaptive behaviors are directed towards a sibling.  Another commonly asked question involving siblings centers around parents’ concerns about having different expectations of siblings versus the child with challenging behavior.  Because we have siblings on the brain, several members of the Think:Kids team attended a training a few weeks ago by Don Meyer, the founder of Sibshops.

Sibshops was started 30 years ago by Meyer for the brothers and sisters of children with emotional and developmental needs. In recent years, there has been growing interest in also including brothers and sisters of children with mental health needs. The goal of Sibshops involves offering these brothers and sisters an opportunity to meet other siblings in a recreational setting.  Facilitators come up with group games and creative activities which they use as vehicles around which to offer psychoeducation, talk about the joys/concerns brothers and sisters face, and to talk about different ways of handling situations. Meyer is explicit that the focus of Sibshops is not therapeutic—instead the emphasis is on wellness and play.

Meyers’ big take-home point is that siblings’ experiences are often marginalized in family treatments, if considered at all. He makes the case for making space for siblings experiences because:

  1. Siblings experience many of the same issues as parents in families with special needs children
  2. Siblings are in the lives of children with special needs the longest and
  3. Siblings spend lots of time with the child so they have the opportunity to significantly impact the social development of that child.

Meyers says that any “family” intervention is not truly a systems intervention without actively incorporating siblings in some way.

We find this point by Meyers compelling.  What would it look like to carry this idea over to what we are doing at Think:Kids.  Would Sibshops as a model make sense in our clinic? Would more of a psycho-education group for siblings of children with challenging behavior be helpful to families? What about a group that brings siblings and the child with challenging behavior together and teaches them in real-time about problem solving with each other?  We think there is at least one fundamental difference between being the sibling of a child with challenging behavior and a child with a developmental or medical need—there doesn’t seem to be the same confusion about lack of motivation and will that children with challenging behavior so often face. I would expect this fundamental difference in our societal understanding of children with challenging behavior to impact the siblings of children with challenging behavior in a unique way.

We think there are some immediate ways we could work to incorporate siblings more into what we are already doing in the clinic. We could invite siblings to be part of the intake process as a matter of course, and listen to their perspectives. We do this sometimes, especially if the problems to be solved center around interactions with a sibling– but we don’t to this as a matter of course. We could also think more consistently about letting siblings know during intake that we’d be happy to share information about what we’re doing with their brother/sister and parents. This would invite siblings in from the periphery.

It is exciting to think about the opportunities to incorporate another perspective into our problem solving and to think about ways we can offer more and more children the opportunity to learn about CPS.

  • How do you incorporate siblings into your CPS work?
  • What are your thoughts about the pros and cons of doing so?
  • What ideas do you have for involving siblings in a more central way?
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