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Sibling relations

siblings walking
Sibling relations

Family relations


One of the best ways to find an answer to this question is by speaking to family members of individuals with Down syndrome. In addition, there are many books and articles written by family members about their personal experiences. A message you’ll encounter time and time again is that the positive impacts of having a family member with Down syndrome far outweigh any difficulties or challenges that may come up. The majority of families share that they are stronger and closer as a result of the experience of dealing with a disability, and that they are more focused on the things that really matter in life. There have also been many research studies that explore how having a child with Down syndrome affects families. These have shown that while these families do experience additional challenges, their levels of well-being are comparable to those of families who do not have a child with Down syndrome. Researchers say that what seems to determine if families are resilient and able to thrive is their ability to access individual, family and community resources. Be sure to also take advantage of all the resources available in your local community, and focus on building a support network to get you and your family through any tough times.

How can I keep my relationship with my partner strong?

There are many things you can do to keep your relationship strong amidst the added stresses that may come when raising a child with a disability. Two key strategies often mentioned by parents are maintaining good communication and spending time alone together. So take a few minutes every day to talk with your partner. Plan a regular “date night.” Or, take a vacation together. Even if you can’t get away as often as you might like, make an effort to keep your romance alive. Don’t let anniversaries or other special occasions go uncelebrated, and do little things to show your partner that you care and appreciate all of his or her hard work. A loving relationship is one of the best sources of strength and support for dealing with any challenges that come your way.


It’s natural for new parents of a child with Down syndrome to wonder how this new person will impact family members and relationships.

You might be asking yourself: How will having a brother or sister with Down syndrome affect my other children? Will having a child with a disability alter my relationship with my partner? How will my relationships with friends and relatives change?

While each family’s situation is unique, it may be helpful and encouraging to know that both personal accounts and research studies provide solid evidence that families of children with Down syndrome can be stable, successful and happy. This section provides information on what you can do to meet the needs of your entire family.

It is very important not to neglect your other children or your marriage partner, since maintaining and strengthening the family unit is of vital importance to all, including your child with Down syndrome.

Parents should never feel obligated to devote all their spare time to their child with Down syndrome. Nevertheless, you should explain to your children that the baby will need some extra care and that you will need to spend some more time on the baby.



While having a sibling with Down syndrome may present unique challenges, it also provides many opportunities for children’s positive growth and character development. Studies have shown that children who have a brother or sister with Down syndrome can benefit in many ways. For example, these children often exhibit a level of maturity above that of their peers and tend to have more highly-developed communication and social skills.

The experience and knowledge gained by having a sibling with Down syndrome also seems to make children more accepting and appreciative of differences. They tend to be more aware of the difficulties that others might be going through, and often surprise parents, teachers and others with their wisdom, insight and empathy.

Brothers and sisters of individuals with Down syndrome are also very much aware of their sibling’s challenges and thus, often take a tremendous amount of pride in his or her accomplishments. In addition, parents often report that, no matter what issues siblings may have with their brother or sister with Down syndrome at home, outside the home they are typically very loyal to their sibling and do their best to defend and protect him or her.

It’s also necessary to tell the siblings it isn’t self-evident being the brother or sister of a child with Down syndrome. It is very normal that they experience a range of different feelings towards their special brother of sister.

Most siblings find it nice to share these feelings with other siblings of a child with Down syndrome (like in a sibling support group).



When telling your children that their new little brother or sister has Down syndrome, you could tell your children about the baby using the following words for example: “He is a baby with Down syndrome. He will learn and develop much the same as any other baby, only slower. We will have to repeat things often to him and be patient. The baby will smile, laugh and play and even be naughty sometimes. In the meantime we can love our new baby and play with him a lot.”

Take time to explain things to your children and let them know they can always come to you to ask questions. Make sure your answers are simple and clear, according to the age of the sibling. Look out for some books that are addressed to children about Down syndrome.

It’s important to make clear that all children are different and that this is also the case with children with Down syndrome, so you can never predict what children will be able to do or not. This is very important for the siblings, because when they will read or hear something about children with Down syndrome and this isn’t so with their brother or sister, then they will be confused. Especially when they read something about things that are ‘never’ or ‘always’ the case and this doesn’t fit with the image of their brother or sister, it could be very confusing for them.

As the siblings of a child with Down syndrome get older (about 10 years) they tend to need more factual answers and usually like to be involved in decisions about the child with Down syndrome. Tailor your explanation to their age and ability to comprehend. An older child might be able to understand the genetics of Down syndrome, while a younger sibling might need a simpler explanation. Encourage your children to ask questions about whatever they don’t understand and be sure to emphasize that the new baby will be able to do all the same things other babies do. Most children are able to grasp that a baby with Down syndrome may learn a little more slowly and need extra care, and they often take special pride in helping their new sibling.

Remember that your children will take their cue from you. If you are able to communicate excitement about their new sibling, they will be excited, too. Try to keep up family routines and traditions, and don’t curb family activities in the community any more than is necessary. This will help your other children come to terms with their sibling’s condition while giving your new baby many new varied experiences. Brothers and sisters are often the first to realize that their new sibling is more like other kids than different, with his or her own unique personality, and that like all members of the family, he or she will have strengths, challenges and much to contribute.



For the older brothers and sisters.pdf - July 2017 6:50 PM



As discussed, your children may be doing an excellent job of helping with their brother or sister, but you want to make sure you are doing all you can to meet their needs as well. Here are some tips for caring for siblings:

  • Let them teach you how it feels to be a sibling, listen to what they have to say and how they experience all of this.
  • Be sure to acknowledge all emotions, not just the positive ones. If your children know that it is okay to express any feelings they may be having about their sibling with Down syndrome, negative emotions are less likely to turn up in other ways, such as behaviour problems.
  • Acknowledge that the siblings will know some stressful periods (like the birth of the child with Down syndrome) and that it is important to provide some extra support for them at these times.
  • While it can be beneficial for your other children to feel they can play an important role in caring for their sibling with Down syndrome, don’t give them too many responsibilities in this area. Don’t expect too much from the siblings.
  • Don’t look at them as an extra parent who can support the child with Down syndrome everywhere and anytime. Don’t make them feel as if they should compensate for the disability of their brother or sister. Then you will put too much pressure on them.
  • Although your responsibilities may pull you in many different directions, pay attention to your children and any changes in their moods. If you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression, get your child the help he or she needs as early as possible.
  • Appreciate all of your children individually, don’t look at the sibling as ‘the better child’ and the child with Down syndrome as ‘the weaker one’. This can cause problems between the children. Appreciate the unique characteristics of each child, the positive as well as the negative ones.
  • Try to schedule in some quality time alone with the sibling, so they also feel special and appreciated. Spend time with each of your children on a regular basis. Each child is unique, so don’t worry about dividing your time equally. Instead, focus on what’s important to an individual child, and dedicate time to those things that would make him or her feel loved and special. Remind your children that all members of your family are special in their own way.
  • Help them build a positive self-image by giving them compliments about their patience, helping out with their brother of sister, sacrifices they’ve made…
  • Even though other children will often offer to look after their sibling ‘one day’ this is not a burden that must be laid on their shoulders. Respect that they also have a life to live.
  • Other children might also develop needs for therapy or extra classes, do not deny them this at the expense of their sibling with Down syndrome.
  • Try to get the sibling in touch with other siblings of a child with Down syndrome, these interactions are often very supportive for them.
  • Always keep the lines of communication open – be honest and give other siblings a platform to be honest too.
  • Let the same rules apply when it comes to unacceptable behaviour, what’s good for the others are good for their sibling with Down syndrome.
  • Let the other children teach and love their sibling with Down syndrome on their terms, do not interfere – your other children will one day be your biggest allies.