How do I help a student whose brother has a chronic illness?

How do I help a six-year-old boy in my class whose eight-year-old brother has Duchenes Muscular Dystrophy?  His acting out behaviour is causing tremendous conflict between him and the other children in the class.

There are two issues to deal with. First, your student is acting out. Second, he may be suffering because his brother has a chronic illness that is affecting his behavior. It is best to approach both issues at the same time.

His acting out can be approached in the same way as any other acting out. Encourage self control by arranging a Good Behavior Chart with his parents.  Each day, take 30 seconds to report to his parents about his good behavior. Have a form that you note if he controlled his behavior.  His parents can provide positive consequences for his good behavior. Both you and his parents should encourage him rather than punishing him.

I would also have him sit out of the group for a few minutes, to think about how he can control what he is doing when he misbehaves in class.

Coping with a serious chronic illness in a brother is hard. He may be:

  • jealous of the attention his brother is getting
  • afraid of what is happening to his brother
  • being a bit neglected at home because of the demands of his brother’s care
  • worried that he will get muscular dystrophy

A chat with his parents about how he is doing would be helpful. Together with his parents, you can support him. Get to know him a bit more.  A few minutes of positive time with you each day may make a huge difference to his life. Focusing on his interests rather than discussing his brother may be most helpful. Of course, if he brings up his brother’s disease, you should respond.

Prepare yourself by reading about Muscular Dystrophy (e.g., here or here)

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