WPFP7: The Sibling Experience: Understanding and Supporting Our Other Kids with Emily Rubin


In this Episode

Mental health challenges don’t just affect the child who is struggling, they affect the whole family. For siblings, the experience can be confusing, upsetting, and even traumatic. It can also be rewarding. Emily Rubin is the Director of Sibling Support at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which works with hospitals and other agencies to address the needs of siblings and parents of children with mental health, developmental and special health needs. In our conversation, Emily explains the many emotions siblings experience when their brother or sister is struggling and describes the various ways that siblings might respond. She offers strategies that parents can use to support their other children so they can cope and adjust in the best possible way.

About Emily

Emily Rubin is Director of Sibling Support at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center and Assistant Professor in Psychiatry at UMass Medical School, as well as a Research Associate in Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at Cambridge Health Alliance. Emily is also Executive Director of the Massachusetts Sibling Support Network, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization committed to addressing the needs of siblings of people with disabilities.

What You’ll Learn

  • What siblings experience when they have a brother or sister with mental health needs or in crisis

  • Common feelings that siblings wish their parents and others knew they have

  • Different ways that siblings accommodate or adjust to the situation and what to look out for

  • Helpful and simple strategies parents and caregivers can use to support siblings

  • How a family can work together to determine what information they choose to share with others

  • How parent attitude about a child who struggles can influence the sibling experience and the most helpful kind of language parents can use

  • The positive impacts that having a brother or sister with any kind of disability can have on a sibling

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Resources Mentioned

  • The Massachusetts Sibling Support Network – The MSSN is committed to supporting siblings of people with disabilities in the following ways: creating welcoming communities for siblings across the lifespan; improving the range and availability of sibling support services; and providing education about sibling-related issues.

  • The MSSN site includes Sibling Resources, including national programs, strategies to support young siblings, supporting siblings of children of mental health needs, research, recommended reading, and a sib-tips e-book.

  • Emily also mentioned Dr. Ross Greene’s book: The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children.

    Here’s a link to his non-profit organization: Lives in the Balance which offers “Ideas about how behaviorally challenging kids should be understood and about how to treat them in ways that are more compassionate and effective. Ideas about treating all kids in ways that are non-punitive, non-adversarial, and collaborative, and that teach them skills on the better side of human nature.”

  • Supporting Siblings of Children with Mental Health Needs

    This informational parental guide was written by Emily Rubin, and published by the Massachusetts Developmental Disabilities Network. For additional information contact Emily Rubin, Director of Sibling Support, Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center.
    Phone: 774-455-6537
    Email: emily.Rubin@umassmed.edu

Kendra Wilde