Often, siblings of special needs children feel overlooked and invisible in their family’s struggles. This is known as glass child syndrome.
These siblings feel like they are “looked at” instead of “seen.” The sick sibling gets all the attention. This can lead to a lot of negative outcomes.
What is a glass child?
Glass children are siblings of a child with mental, emotional, physical or cognitive disabilities. Despite being healthy and thriving in their own right, they are forever impacted by the special needs sibling.
Alicia Arenas, a TEDx speaker who speaks of her own struggles as a glass child, uses this term to describe how people tend to look through their own healthy child when they are in the middle of putting out the behavioral, emotional, physical and sometimes literal fires from a disabled or chronically ill sibling.
Glass children are often hidden in families and may not receive adequate care. This lack of attention can lead to a host of negative outcomes for the healthy sibling, including low self-esteem, perfectionism and social isolation.
Alicia Arenas, a TED speaker and former teacher, was born with a disabled brother and lost her younger sister when she was 11. Her childhood was filled with trauma, resulting in her contemplating suicide at age eleven.
Her story is an important lesson for all of us to learn from. We can all make a difference in the lives of glass children by simply being kind, patient, and understanding.
In a TEDx Talk, she explained that it is important for parents and caregivers to recognize the unique emotional needs of their typically developing children. She emphasized that glass children often have the same struggles, joys, interests, fears, and dreams as their disabled sibling but they don’t get the attention or care they need because their parents are consumed with the special needs of their disability.
Changing parenting strategies, help from others and counselling on a regular basis can make all the difference in the life of a glass child.
Taking care of the unaffected child
While a glass child may have a unique set of abilities, they’re not indestructible. They can be affected by the same emotional and medical issues as their siblings, which is why it’s important to take the time to understand their unique needs and how to help them cope.
For starters, the unaffected sibling deserves their fair share of your time and attention. This can include helping them understand the challenges they’re facing, expressing their love for them often and in different ways, reading books about glass children and having conversations on what it means to be a sibling of a glass child.
The best way to do this is to make the sibling feel like the special, normal kid they are. Doing this will go a long way in helping your glass child to enjoy a life filled with joy and optimism, despite their condition. The best gift you can give them is your support and love.
Here are some tips for parenting a glass child
- Validate their feelings: Glass children often experience intense emotions and may feel things more deeply than other children. It’s important to acknowledge and validate their feelings, even if you don’t always understand why they feel a certain way.
- Create a safe and supportive environment: Glass children may be more sensitive to their surroundings, so it’s important to create a safe and supportive environment for them to thrive in. This can include a predictable routine, clear boundaries, and a calm and peaceful home environment.
- Be patient and understanding: Glass children may need more time to adjust to new situations or experiences. It’s important to be patient and understanding with them, and to provide them with the support they need to feel comfortable and confident.
- Encourage self-care: Glass children may be more prone to stress and anxiety, so it’s important to encourage self-care practices like exercise, mindfulness, and creative outlets. Help them develop healthy coping strategies that they can use throughout their lives.
- Seek support when needed: Parenting a glass child can be challenging, and it’s important to seek support when you need it. This can include talking to a therapist, joining a support group, or reaching out to other parents who have similar experiences.
Remember, every child is unique and parenting a glass child requires a personalized approach. By being patient, understanding, and supportive, you can help your child thrive and grow into a healthy and happy adult.
The Life of a Glass Child
Glass children are siblings who live with a sibling who is mentally ill, disabled, has a substance addiction, or who has challenging behavioral issues. These children often feel as though their needs are looked at, but not seen.
They may develop feelings of guilt, resentment, and anxiety. They also feel as if their parents are overly overwhelmed by the demands of the sibling’s disability or disorder.
Alicia Arenas, an artist and a disabled TikTok creator, has spoken in detail about her struggles as a glass child. Her TEDx Talk Recognizing Glass Children sheds light on how long-lasting the effects can be.
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