• Glass children are healthy children who have disabled siblings and may feel neglected or overshadowed.
  • Overly well-behaved children may be perfectionists who struggle with anxiety, stress, or a need for control.
  • Children with disabled siblings face unique challenges that can affect their emotional and social development.

My kids are about 2-and-a-half years apart in age. My youngest is my non-disabled child. He’s creative and smart and funny and athletic. I find myself saying, “He’s such a good kid.”

Then came the teen years. While the early tween and teen years were not without their normal teen grunts instead of speaking to me, for the most part I was not experiencing anything like what my other mom-friends were experiencing.

A young boy holding up his hands in front of glass.

I started to wonder. He’s a good kid. But is there a point when he’s a little “too good.” Turns out, there is. And the phenomenon is called Glass Children.

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To be clear, before any of you come for me and tell me I’m ableist, I’m not. I am not at all blaming any of this on my disabled child. The problem is not him, it’s the lack of systems around him.

Parents like me are forced to pick up the slack due to a lack of services. This results in us not always being able to “be there” for our non-disabled children.

Additionally, he has challenges that other kids do not have. I know how stressful it is for me, as an adult, to watch Kevin struggle and have so many seizures and endure multiple brain surgeries. We often consciously think to address Kevin during all of this and comfort him. But, are the siblings receiving the same amount of supports?

Imagine what it’s like for a child to be witnessing this.

And as a family, we don’t usually have the option to protect him from most incidents. A seizure happens when it’s going to happen….and the timing is rarely convenient or private.

Glass Children Definition

Glass children are non-disabled children who have disabled siblings. They are often overlooked and overshadowed by their siblings’ needs, which can lead to feelings of isolation, neglect, and resentment.

Glass children are a relatively new phenomenon that has only recently been recognized by psychologists and therapists.

The term “glass children” was popularized by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder in his novel “The Solitaire Mystery” (original title: “Kabalmysteriet”), which was first published in 1990. In the book, Gaarder uses the term to refer to children who grow up in the shadow of their parents’ grief or emotional struggles, much like how glass is fragile and can be easily shattered.

In reference to non-disabled children with disabled peers, the “glass” concept comes from many of the children expressing that they do not feel seen. They feel as if someone (parents, caregivers) are looking right through them, like glass.

The concept has been discussed in the context of how parental issues or emotional turmoil can affect the well-being of their children, making them feel delicate and vulnerable, like glass. While Gaarder popularized the term, it is possible that others may have used similar metaphors or concepts before him, but his novel is well-known for bringing the idea to a wider audience.

While the term glass child often refers to a non-disabled sibling of a disabled child, it can be anything that causes this behavior. Divorce, death in the family, addiction and other forms of trauma can lead to a child being “too good” and not wanting to make waves.

Another type of child that often goes unnoticed is the overly well-behaved child. These children are often praised for their good behavior, but their perfectionism can be a sign of anxiety, stress, or a need for control.

They may feel pressure to be perfect and fear making mistakes, which can lead to a lack of spontaneity and creativity. I see this with my son’s basketball performance. He’s afraid to take risks on the court and always plays it safe.

Children with disabled siblings face unique challenges that can affect their emotional and social development. They may feel responsible for their sibling’s care or feel guilty for being healthy and able-bodied.

They may also feel neglected or overlooked by their parents (not seen, or glass), who are often preoccupied with their disabled child’s needs. It is important to recognize and support these children to prevent them from feeling isolated or resentful.

A little girl peering through a glass window.

Understanding Glass Children

Glass children are siblings of children with disabilities who often feel overlooked and neglected. They are named “glass children” because their parents tend to look right through their needs and focus on the demands of their siblings with disabilities.

My younger son, the non-disabled one, plays a lot of basketball including travel basketball. Due to Kevin’s health, we often “divide and conquer” as we say around here.

That is, one of us does the basketball activity, the other stays home with Kevin. I can’t just get a sitter, because he requires a nurse as a sitter.

Anyway, several times over the years, we’ve had other team parents tell us “Oh, we thought you were divorced, because we never see you together.”

Sure, we can laugh about that. But what impact does that have on Brian? Or Kevin? Brian has never had both parents at a basketball game. Kevin has only attended a few basketball games, and we had to leave early because it was too overwhelming for him.

So he hears us talk about it and may wonder why he’s never invited.

Glass children can feel invisible and isolated, leading to a range of emotional and mental health issues.

Growing up with a sibling with a disability can be a challenging experience for glass children. They may feel like they have to be perfect to compensate for their sibling’s struggles, leading to a sense of pressure and anxiety.

Glass children may also feel guilty for not having a disability themselves and struggle with feelings of resentment towards their sibling. I know in our case, Brian has also expressed that he wishes that Kevin could play basketball with him. Yes, we have provided other opportunities for them to bond.

But it’s completely normal to wish that your brother could go shoot hoops with you in the backyard. That doesn’t make any of us ableist, nor does it mean we do not accept Kevin for who he is.

It is important for parents and caregivers to recognize the needs of glass children and provide them with support. This can include setting aside one-on-one time with them, acknowledging their achievements and struggles, and involving them in their sibling’s care. That doesn’t mean making them responsible, but explaining why things are the way they are.

Providing glass children with a safe space to express their emotions and concerns can also help them cope with the challenges they face.

Glass children are often overlooked and neglected, leading to a range of emotional and mental health issues. Recognizing their needs and providing them with support can help them cope with the challenges of growing up with a sibling with a disability.

A boy observing outside through a glass window on a train.

The Phenomenon of Overly Well-Behaved Children

Overly well-behaved children are those who never overstep the line, who always do what they are told, and who never cause any trouble.

They are the ones who are always praised by their parents, teachers, and other adults. However, this type of behavior can be a cause for concern.

A colorful cape-wearing girl standing in front of a window.

Psychological Perspectives

From a psychological perspective, overly well-behaved children may be experiencing anxiety, depression, or other emotional issues.

They may feel the need to please others in order to feel loved or accepted, or they may be afraid of the consequences of misbehaving.

This can lead to a lack of self-confidence and a fear of taking risks or making mistakes. I see this over and over again with Brian on the basketball court and in his social life. He’s afraid of being rejected, so he never puts himself out there.

A little girl in a pink dress is playing with a hula hoop.

Societal Impact

From a societal perspective, overly well-behaved children may be seen as conformists who lack creativity and independent thinking. They may be less likely to challenge authority or question the status quo, which can be a hindrance to personal growth and societal progress.

Additionally, they may be at risk for being taken advantage of by others who recognize their compliant nature.

The phenomenon of overly well-behaved children is often linked to the concept of “glass children,” which refers to siblings of children with disabilities. Glass children may feel neglected or invisible due to the attention and resources that are focused on their disabled sibling.

As a result, they may feel the need to be perfect in order to compensate for their perceived shortcomings.

Overall, while it is important for children to be well-behaved and respectful, it is also important for them to be able to express themselves and make mistakes.

Parents and caregivers should be mindful of the potential psychological and societal impacts of overly well-behaved behavior and encourage children to find a balance between following rules and being true to themselves.

Children with Disabled Siblings

As I read more and more about this, I see that we definitely fit the pattern.

Brian is a Straight-A student and has been forever. He very rarely talks back. He does what he is told, or what is asked of him.

He is a great basketball player and shooter. He has a great mind for basketball and reads the game and the other players well.

But, he’s been repeatedly told by coaches that he’s not aggressive enough. He doesn’t take enough risks on the court.

Challenges Faced by Glass Children

Children with disabled siblings face unique challenges that can impact their emotional, social, and psychological well-being. They may feel neglected or overlooked, as their parents’ attention is often focused on the needs of their disabled sibling.

This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and resentment. We always ask Brian if it’s ok that not both of us are at his basketball games and he says “it’s fine.” I don’t know that it is though.

Children with disabled siblings may experience increased stress and anxiety due to the demands of caring for their sibling. They may also feel guilty for not being able to help more, or for feeling frustrated or angry with their sibling.

I know that when speaking about weekend basketball tournaments, this is most certainly the case. We have had to travel all up and down the east coast going to tournaments. Some even in beach towns during the summer, which is a lot of fun.

But, one of us stays home with Kevin. Kevin hates the beach. He hates noise, crowds, bright lights and has other sensory issues. A large basketball tournament is not his jam.

So it’s in his best interest to leave him home. Forcing him to attend would make everyone miserable, but most importantly it would really distress and upset him.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some guilt or regret at not bringing him. There’s guilt associated with “I’m glad my brother isn’t here because then we can relax and focus on the game” because we’re not really supposed to feel that way, are we?

A woman is covering her face with a leaf, mesmerizing the glass children.

Coping Strategies for Non Disabled Siblings

It is important for parents to recognize the challenges faced by children with disabled siblings, and to provide support and resources to help them cope.

Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

  • Encourage open communication: Parents should create a safe and supportive environment where children can express their feelings and concerns without fear of judgment or criticism. I do this in the car all the time. The good thing about having an avid basketball player is that we’re always driving to or from basketball.
  • Provide opportunities for individual attention: Parents should make an effort to spend one-on-one time with each child, to help them feel valued and appreciated. I’ve done this with our basketball trips and recently I took Brian and a friend to an Atlantic City waterpark for a few days. Yes, Kevin gets trips alone too, like to Sesame Place.
  • Seek out support groups: There are many support groups available for siblings of disabled children, which can provide a sense of community and understanding.
  • Educate siblings about their sibling’s disability: By helping siblings understand their sibling’s disability, parents can help reduce feelings of confusion or fear.
  • Encourage self-care: Parents should encourage their children to take care of themselves, by engaging in activities they enjoy, getting enough sleep, and eating healthy.

By providing support and resources, parents can help children with disabled siblings navigate the unique challenges they face, and promote their overall well-being.

Implications and Consequences

A girl sitting on the glass steps of a building.

Effects on Personal Development

Growing up as a glass child can be a challenging and isolating experience. These children often feel overlooked and neglected as their parents focus on the needs of their disabled sibling.

As a result, glass children may struggle with feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and a lack of confidence.

Research has shown that glass children are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

They may also have difficulty forming close relationships with others and may struggle with social skills. This is one area I definitely see in my child. He doesn’t “put himself out there” and take risks, because he doesn’t want the rejection.

Impact on Family Dynamics

Having a disabled sibling can have a significant impact on family dynamics. Parents may feel overwhelmed and stressed as they try to care for their disabled child while also meeting the needs of their other children. This can lead to tension and conflict within the family.

Glass children may feel resentful towards their parents and their disabled sibling. They may feel like they are not receiving the attention and support they need and may act out in response. This can further strain family relationships and lead to more conflict.

I cannot even count the number of times that we have had to leave a place, or an outing, due to my disabled son’s needs. It may have been seizures, it might have been sensory overload, but we had to stop what we were doing and go home.

It is important for families to recognize the unique needs of glass children and provide them with the support and attention they need to thrive.

This may include seeking counseling or therapy for the entire family and providing opportunities for glass children to connect with others in similar situations.

Support and Resources

Glass children face unique challenges that can be difficult to navigate alone. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help support these children and their families.

Professional Help

One of the most effective ways to support glass children is to seek professional help. This can include therapy, counseling, or other forms of mental health support. A mental health professional can help glass children process their emotions and develop coping strategies for dealing with the challenges of having a disabled sibling.

It’s important to find a mental health professional who has experience working with glass children and their families.

Some resources for finding a qualified therapist include:

  • The American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline
  • Local hospitals or clinics that offer mental health services for kids

Community Support

In addition to professional help, glass children and their families can benefit from community support. This can include support groups, online forums, and other resources that allow glass children to connect with others who are going through similar experiences.

Some resources for finding community support include:

  • The Sibling Support Project, which offers resources and support for siblings of individuals with disabilities
  • Local disability advocacy groups, which may offer support groups or other resources for families
  • Online forums and social media groups, which can provide a safe space for glass children to connect with others and share their experiences

By seeking professional help and community support, glass children and their families can find the resources they need to navigate the challenges of having a disabled sibling.

Being a glass child is a challenging experience that can greatly impact a child’s emotional and psychological well-being. These children often feel overlooked and neglected as their parents focus on the demands of their disabled siblings.

It is important for parents to recognize the needs of their glass children and provide them with the support and attention they require. This can include spending one-on-one time with them, seeking therapy or counseling, and involving them in activities outside of the home.

Additionally, it is important for society as a whole to recognize the struggles of glass children and work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for all individuals with disabilities and their families.

This can include advocating for better resources and support for families with disabled children, promoting awareness and education around disability issues, and working to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by individuals with disabilities and their families.

By taking these steps, we can help ensure that glass children receive the care and attention they need to thrive and succeed, both now and in the future.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can parents support siblings of children with disabilities?

Parents can support siblings of children with disabilities by recognizing their unique needs and experiences. They can provide emotional support and validation, while also encouraging open communication and expression of feelings. Additionally, parents can involve siblings in their sibling’s care and treatment, while also ensuring that they have their own individual time and attention.

What are some common challenges faced by children with disabled siblings?

Children with disabled siblings may face a range of challenges, including social isolation, stress, and feelings of guilt or resentment. They may also experience a lack of attention or resources, as well as difficulties with communication and understanding their sibling’s disability.

How can children learn to cope with the stress of having a disabled sibling?

Children can learn to cope with the stress of having a disabled sibling by developing healthy coping strategies, such as seeking support from friends and family, engaging in self-care activities, and expressing their feelings in a safe and healthy way.

They can also benefit from therapy or counseling, which can provide them with additional tools and resources for managing stress and emotional challenges.

What are some common coping strategies for families with disabled children?

Common coping strategies for families with disabled children include seeking support from community resources and support groups, developing a strong support network, practicing self-care, and seeking professional help when needed.

Additionally, families can benefit from developing a positive outlook and focusing on their child’s strengths and resilience.

How can teachers support children who may be struggling with the challenges of having a disabled sibling?

Teachers can support children who may be struggling with the challenges of having a disabled sibling by providing a safe and supportive learning environment, encouraging open communication and expression of feelings, and providing resources and referrals to community support groups and resources.

They can also work with parents to develop individualized plans and accommodations for students who may need additional support.

What are some resources available for families with disabled children?

Families with disabled children can access a range of resources, including community support groups, counseling and therapy services, educational resources and advocacy organizations. Additionally, many hospitals and medical centers offer support programs and resources for families with disabled children, including respite care and family counseling services.

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