Well Sibling Syndrome

Children who grow up with siblings with developmental delays, physical impairments, chronic illnesses, or mental health problems may feel overlooked and ignored. s a result of their sibling’s special needs – such experiences are what we call Well-sibling syndrome.

What Is Well-Sibling Syndrome?

Well-Sibling Syndrome encapsulates the sense of being forgotten because you’re fortunate enough to be healthy. The guilt you experience, as a result, the burden of growing up too quickly, and the struggle to distinguish yourself from the other child.

Having a sibling with a chronic illness can mean dealing with their special needs daily for some children. For other children, the household’s rhythm can be influenced by the sibling with a mental illness.

How Does A Child With Well-Sibling Syndrome Feel?

Research has reported some shared common responses among children with well-sibling syndrome:

Multiple studies on siblings of children with chronic physical disabilities, terminal diseases, and cognitive disabilities have shown them all to share a common trait: avoidance. They avoid discussing or even initiating conversations with their parents and siblings about their sick sibling’s situation. Healthy siblings also tend to keep their distance from their siblings, when outside their house, due to social stigmas surrounding mental illness and cognitive delays.

Families with children with severe and terminal illnesses have symptoms that are difficult to manage and intense daily needs tend to be more severely affected than families with more manageable illnesses. Due to the disruption that ensues as a result, well siblings prefer to keep their problems to themselves to avoid distressing their parents. Many good siblings also report feeling the need to please people and make everyone in the family happy as if it were their responsibility.

Many kids with sick siblings have also expressed how they feel ignored because their parents were mostly preoccupied with their sick siblings. Others report receiving less attention from their parents, which led them to become self-reliant and cope with their feelings by themselves. However, this resulted in anxiety and depression in some siblings.

Well, siblings have also reported feeling resentment because of how they had had to stop their sibling’s tantrums. Many also noticed how their parents had to set aside a major portion of their income for their sibling’s medical expenses. They also noticed that their parents have different expectations for each of their kids.

Siblings of kids who suffer from mental illness or cognitive disorders like autism have said they believe their parents will tolerate their sibling’s outbursts but reprimand them if they act similarly. Parents may expect the well-behaved sibling to behave properly or perform well in school, but may not expect the same of the special needs child.

Here are some additional emotional experiences that well siblings feel:

  • Children may feel guilt for not being sick.
  • They may wonder if they are the reason for their sibling’s condition.
  • They worry about getting ill themselves.
  • They may feel envious and wish to become the focus of the family.
  • Such children may get angry when asked to perform more household duties than a sibling who has a long-term illness.
  • They may also feel guilty if they resent the extra duty they give.
  • When people stare at their brother or sister in a wheelchair or when other kids make fun of their siblings because they look different may cause siblings to feel embarrassed or even angry.

Symptoms Of Well-Sibling Syndrome

These are some of the widely-reported symptoms that siblings of children with chronic illnesses or mental or physical impairment feel:

  • Anxious
  • Depressed
  • Withdrawn
  • Angry
  • Losing interest in friends
  • Poorly performing in school
  • An excessive effort to achieve
  • Rebellious
  • Losing enjoyment for once-pleasurable pursuits like sports or music lessons
  • Acting out to attract attention in other ways

How Can You Help Your Child With Well-Sibling Syndrome?

If you have a child with Well-sibling syndrome, here’s what you can do to help them:

Look for ways to keep your child busy and involved at home, but don’t expect them to assume parental responsibilities. Assign them simple, age-appropriate tasks that help the household run smoothly daily so they understand their importance.

During the times when children aren’t allowed in the hospital, have them create artwork or cards to place in the sick child’s room. You may also ask them to gather some of the sick child’s belongings, like books or stuffed animals to send to the hospital.

When your child inquires about their sick sibling’s well-being, respond with sincere, specific, and thorough answers that are appropriate for the child’s age. Despite parents’ best efforts to shield their kids from the reality of the situation, kids often pick up on when something is happening and they will undoubtedly ask questions. Despite having the best intentions, parents often avoid answering their kids’ questions, which makes them feel even more left out.

Recognize your siblings’ relationships. Siblings may feel that only the parent’s relationship with the sick child is being acknowledged. When a family is grieving the illness of a child. It is important to recognize the important relationship that the siblings have with their ill siblings.

The Ending Note

Siblings of disabled, chronically, or mentally ill children are often overlooked and ignored. While growing up with a special needs sibling may teach them to be self-reliant, patient, tolerant, and mature, they also face challenges that others are unaware of. With increased responsibilities and expectations, but less attention from parents, children may feel neglected. 

As a result, well siblings experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, anger, and resentment. Though more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of growing up with a sick sibling. Some of the ways to help your children with the well-sibling syndrome include, keeping them busy, involved, and acknowledging their relationship with yourself and your sick children. Make sure to burden them with responsibilities and expectations, and make them feel heard and seen.


What is the youngest sibling syndrome?

Youngest sibling syndrome is a behavior that mostly occurs in the youngest siblings. The symptoms such as confidence, high sociability, creativity, problem-solving skills, and expertise at getting others to do things for them. Such children also tend to be less intelligent than their older siblings, spoiled, and take unnecessary risks.

However, new research refutes the notion that the order of birth has any effect on the behavior of children. Gender roles, parental involvement, and stereotypes may have a more significant impact.

What is the oldest sibling syndrome?

Oldest sibling syndrome has the following symptoms:

  • The oldest siblings tend to be leading and dominating. Leading and guiding their younger siblings becomes an ingrained habit. However, people with the oldest sibling syndrome often become more dominating than simply leading.
  • They strive to be perfectionists which can be unhealthy for their sense of self-worth.
  • The oldest siblings tend to be people pleasers and are always working hard to please their parents and meet unrealistic expectations.
  • They tend to be confident and have high self-esteem.
  • They may become competitive in an unhealthy way.
  • They become overly protective, and controlling, and act as a second parent to their younger siblings.

Why do I have a toxic sibling?

A toxic sibling relationship is one in which the power dynamic is unbalanced and may include sibling abuse and dysfunctional sibling rivalry. Parental favoritism, immature parents, parental or sibling abuse, and psychopathy can all contribute to sibling estrangement.

Toxic sibling relationships stem from a breach of the family’s boundaries. Some parents struggle to assert parental authority or to be responsible parents who guide and support their children. They could be depressed, anxious, overworked, or simply inexperienced. When young children fend for themselves, enmeshment or lopsided power dynamics are unavoidable. The older sibling may take on the role of leader and become a pseudo-parent to their siblings, or they may vent their rage on the younger siblings.

What do you do if you have a toxic sibling?

These are some of the measures you can employ if you have a toxic sibling:

  • Set healthy boundaries. You cannot make them change.
  • Stop associating with your toxic sibling whether your parents understand you or not.
  • Don’t exhaust yourself trying to maintain the relationship. Allow yourself to let go at some point, and recognize that shared genetics do not always imply friendship.
  • Acknowledge that your sibling is someone you don’t want to associate with.
  • Avoid labeling the person. It does not allow for solutions and leads to defensiveness. Instead, label the problematic behaviors because it allows you to take actionable steps that increase feelings of self-efficacy and control.
  • Communicate your feelings to your sibling if you feel comfortable and safe doing so. Describe what you want to do. Be willing to make concessions. As much as possible, use clear, non-blaming language.
  • Explain your needs, and what is and is not acceptable to you. Determine the consequences if they do not respect your boundaries. Clearly articulate your feelings and outline your boundaries and what you believe to be a fair compromise. However, you can always control your actions and reactions.

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