How to Tell Your Older Children That Their Sibling Has Down Syndrome


After the initial surprise of learning that your newborn has Down syndrome, as the parent of other children, there's a very important thing to address at home: How to explain to your older children that their new brother or sister has Down syndrome.

Depending on the age of your children and their personalities, they will process the information in different ways. Some older siblings may already know information about Down syndrome, and may have interacted with peers with Down syndrome at school or other places.

Kids older than 10 years old will usually bring their own ideas, so be ready:

-           Listen carefully with no judgment.

-           Expect unexpected reactions: surprise, sadness, or indifference. And sometimes, your own kids will offer the most impressive lessons of acceptance and inspiration. 

-           Be patient and don’t blame your children for talking honestly about their concerns. They may use inappropriate terminology. This is a new world for them, just as it is for you.

-           Take it one step at a time. Don’t expect your children to get all the information that they need in a single chat. Try to talk openly and honestly, and continue to give them special time to discuss their feelings and respond to their questions.

-           Remind your children that no matter their sibling's condition, as a member of the family, he is a child first and he will have rights and obligations based on his personal abilities and development. “We don’t expect less of him because he has Down syndrome, but to let him demonstrate to us what he’s capable of with our love and support.”

-           The older the children are, the more likely they’ll be confused by the mix of feelings they may be experiencing. Many times they don’t want to put more pressure on their parents and this can lead them to hide their feelings. Finding emotional support through school, church or with other family members is always a good idea.

-           If you have a teenager, his friends play an important role of his life. Ask him if there’s someone special he would like to share the news with, in his community of classmates or friends. Offer help in this process. He may need guidance to talk about this with them.

-           Explain to your children that the beginning may be challenging for everyone, but eventually everybody will get used to a new routine. No one is expected to be perfect through the process, but to be patient and respect each other’s feelings.

As parents, it’s okay to not to have all the answers. If at any time you don’t know what to say, explain to your children that we’re all learning together and it’s important to take it easy, and to understand that many answers will come eventually.

It’s very important to understand that as parents and family, it’s normal to have misconceptions, myths or prejudices about Down syndrome.

Don’t take comments or reactions as personal aggressions. Everyone in the home will need guidance and education to understand why their relative has Down syndrome, and what his development is going to be like.

Any newborn needs a lot of attention and devotion during his first months of life, and even more so if he’s been diagnosed with Down syndrome or has medical complications. Talk to your children about this process and don’t expect them to be conscious or mature all the time. Beginnings are never easy, so try to always plan a special time for your older children as well. Don’t ever put them in a second place, or let them think that their needs are not as important. Every child has special needs of some kind, and they all need our full attention and constant words of empowerment and appreciation.

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