COPING TIPS

Coping Tips for Siblings

Illness can be confusing and scary for a sibling. Children have active imaginations and they can get the wrong idea about what is happening.

Coping Tips for Siblings

Illness can be confusing and scary for a sibling. Children have active imaginations and they can get the wrong idea about what is happening.

Ask questions to figure out what your child knows and try to answer simply and honestly, in age-appropriate ways. If possible, allow your well child(ren) to be a part of their sibling’s care. Plan a visit to the hospital and introduce them to the healthcare team. Let them choose which toys and games to take to the hospital. This will take away some of the mystery and allow them to feel they are helping and have some control.

Think of ways that you can spend time together as a family, if possible. It is important to take time to spend with the sibling, despite the pressing nature of treatment. Even a half hour of special time alone with you can go a long way.

Acknowledge their emotions and the changes in their routine. When possible try to accommodate their need for normalcy and include them in decision making about necessary adjustments.

If your other child is still in the hospital, ask the hospital staff about programs for siblings. Hospitals may offer sibling support through their social work, child life, or chaplain services.

Ask questions to figure out what your child knows and try to answer simply and honestly, in age-appropriate ways. If possible, allow your well child(ren) to be a part of their sibling’s care. Plan a visit to the hospital and introduce them to the healthcare team. Let them choose which toys and games to take to the hospital. This will take away some of the mystery and allow them to feel they are helping and have some control.

Think of ways that you can spend time together as a family, if possible. It is important to take time to spend with the sibling, despite the pressing nature of treatment. Even a half hour of special time alone with you can go a long way.

Acknowledge their emotions and the changes in their routine. When possible try to accommodate their need for normalcy and include them in decision making about necessary adjustments.

If your other child is still in the hospital, ask the hospital staff about programs for siblings. Hospitals may offer sibling support through their social work, child life, or chaplain services.

Ways to help siblings cope
  1. Notice when siblings are feeling sad, worried or lost in their thoughts – or when they seem angry or irritated – and ask what’s on their mind. Remember that changes in behavior can come from worries or upset feelings.
  2. Set aside time to talk with your other children about what is happening, what to expect, and what they are feeling. Let them ask lots of questions.
  3. Encourage your children to share their feelings. There are many ways to share feelings (talking, drawing, story-telling, hugging) at different times (dinnertime, bedtime) and places (in the car, at home, in the hospital). Help siblings name their feelings such as being sad, scared, angry, jealous, or guilty. Share your own feelings and be a good listener even if what they have to say is hard to hear.
  4. As much as possible, maintain everyday routines, activities, limits. Trying to keep some everyday routines can help things feel more normal at home. Having regular routines and activities (like meal times, bed times, and chores) give siblings things to expect and look forward to. Even though it can be tempting to relax family rules to help siblings feel special or make up for hard times, it’s often better to keep most of the rules and expectations the same.
  5. Get support from family and friends. There may be times when you have to focus on one child’s needs. Ask family, friends, and possibly the school to give your other children some special attention.
  6. Encourage siblings to have fun. Often times, siblings feel guilty about wanting to have fun while their brother or sister is not well. Remind them it’s good to spend time with friends and do activities or hobbies they enjoy. Even better, demonstrate this behavior yourself.
  7. Seek help. If your other children seem to be struggling, talk to your child’s doctor about seeking help from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or social worker.
  8. If your young child attends school or daycare, talk to them about keeping your child on their usual routine as much as possible, to keep some sense of “normal” in your child’s day.
  9. Use technology to keep in touch with the rest of your immediate family (call, video chat).

  1. Does your child have a special comfort item? If so, try to make sure it goes everywhere they go.
  2. Reassure your child that they did not cause the illness and (if this is not an infectious illness) they cannot “catch” it. “Cancer [or diabetes] is not like having a cold, you cannot get sick by being around your brother or giving him kisses.”
  3. Answer your child’s questions in honest, simple terms. You may have to break up the talk into mini talks or discuss things more than one time.
  4. Children hear more than one would think. Be mindful of what conversations take place in front of or near them. Let them know that you are there to answer any questions that they may have.
  5. Allow choices, whenever possible. The choices can be anything from what their dinner choices are to giving them the options to visit their brother/sister in the hospital.
  6. If their ill sibling now looks or acts very different from before, your child may feel embarrassed by these changes or not know what to say. Speak with your child about what they are feeling and rehearse some phrases that they could use when someone asks a question or comments about their brother or sister.
  7. Your child may start to feel that their new identity is ______’s sister instead of who they really are.  Speak with your child’s teacher as well as the hospital staff. Ask them to refer to your children by their names and to also recognize all the great things that they have done.
  8. Their friends play a big role in their coping process although they may feel like they want to ask a lot of questions about the brother or sister who is receiving treatment. Try to encourage them to do the things that they did prior to the illness or injury and talk about “normal” things.
  9. Talk to your teenager’s friends and have them say “I have a question about your brother/sister, can we talk about it?” This gives your teen the choice to respectfully decline speaking about their sibling.
  10. Many times the community or friends will bring over gifts for the child who is receiving care. While some people may also bring gifts for the sibling, that is not always the case.  Think about how you and your family might handle this situation. Some families share the items with all of their children while others set certain things aside for the siblings. Try asking close family and friends to think of all the children when bringing items to the hospital or home.
Useful phrases to use with siblings

You know your children best, and you probably have experiences which you can draw on now, in talking with them about things that are hard or challenging.  The doctors and nurses may have specific suggestions for how to explain a sibling’s illness or treatment in child-friendly language.

Here are some suggestions to get you started.

  1. “How are you doing? Is there anything that you are worried or scared about?”
    When I am worried I think it is helpful to talk to someone.”
  2. “This is a very confusing time for all of us. Is there anything that you want to talk about?”
  3. “If you feel like you don’t want to talk right now, how about drawing or writing about what’s happening with you and how YOU are feeling?”
  4. “I know I have been spending a lot of time with your brother/sister at the hospital.  I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes you might even feel jealous.”
  5. “You may be feeling mad or sad that _______ and I (mom, dad) have to be away so much and stay at the hospital. Can we talk about how you feel and what things we can do to make it a little easier?”
  6. “I know _______ has been getting a lot of gifts and attention since he/she got sick (hurt). I know sometimes that might not seem fair.“

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