For parents of a child with any long term medical or special need there is naturally a distortion in how much time and energy that the child gets compared to their siblings. This may seem unfair on the siblings and many parents feel guilty and upset about this. However, as a parent you have to accept that this imbalance is not through intention but as a result of necessity. You are essentially differentiating your time and allocating it on the basis of needs. This is the right and fair approach needed in dealing with a situation that has been forced on you by factors outside your control.
Each family situation and context is unique and the degree of imbalance between the needs of the children will vary enormously. As such, the advice and strategies that follow may be more or less useful depending on individual circumstances and the opportunities that each parent has to apply them.
It can be very powerful to normalise the imbalanced situation so that all of the family come to accept this as the status quo. Put aside the unfairness and each family member learns to accept their place in the social hierarchy of your home. Now this approach works best when the child with the needs is eldest and younger siblings are born into an existing situation. However, it can be applied in any situation with the emphasis being on creating a sense of stability, normality and most importantly on not conveying to the siblings that they are some how disadvantaged, hard done by or victims. This can affect their self-esteem and sense of self-worth more than the actual imbalanced situation with their sibling.
Quality time makes up for quantity
Find five-minutes for each child. All children and adolescents benefit from daily 1-1 time with their parents. If necessary timetable a slot when you can be free of other demands. This is something to aim for everyday but try not to worry when you don't achieve it. However, if you manage a few times a week you will feel more connected and this is important.
Network with parents in similar situations. This can be useful for sharing experiences, tips and to have an understanding 'ear'. Where practical to do so, it can help to create opportunities for taking turns looking after each other's child with needs so that you and your other children get respite and opportunities to do things not possible at other times.
Convey mindmindedness to the siblings. This approach requires the parent to use every opportunity to communicate to their child that they are in their thoughts. This can involve a quick wink or smile across the room even when dealing with a situation involving the child with needs. Use of communication technology to send mundane texts and messages through out the day that again remind the child that they are loved and that you are there for them even when you are not physically there.
Supporting outside connections. School, or for younger children nursery, can provide an opportunity for siblings to be away from the difficulties at home and be able to be 'themselves'. Where accessible, opportunities to attend extra-curricular clubs and sports can provide an added outlet for these children. Often the nature of difficulties caused by the child with needs restricts the opportunities for siblings to have friends round. It is worth striving to make this possible at least occasionally by utilising friends and relatives where possible. When this is impossible it is important to try and explain your situation to your child's friend's parents and perhaps arrange to pay for an activity or pizza etc organised by them. Don't be embarrassed to do this as people are generally more than willing to help when they fully understand the situation.
Praise and recognition
When you have to battle with a challenging child or hold together the fragile pieces of an anxious one, it is easy to take for granted their siblings, who just get on with life without creating too much fuss. However, it is worth trying to give them recognition for this. Praising them for everyday simple things like getting ready for school as well as when they do what you ask or hold it together during disappointments. Verbal praise should be given liberally everyday and if appropriate the use of visual reward system can be a powerful way of communicating your gratefulness and pride over what they do.