At stressful times, children often do what they see parents or caregivers doing. This is because children learn how to act by watching the people around them. How parents and caregivers act affects how siblings will act around the patient. It can also affect how children relate to each other.
Remember that siblings need just as much attention and support as the patient. Now and then, a brother or sister might need extra attention or support.
Talking to the patient’s siblings about illness
The patient’s brothers or sisters need information about their sibling’s illness and treatment. The information should be correct and fit the child’s age.
When you talk to the patient’s siblings, be open and honest. From time to time, a sibling might want to talk to someone about how frustrating it is to have a brother or sister who is sick. You should know that it is healthy for siblings to share feelings. Listen to your child without judging him. Let him know it is OK to have those feelings and concerns.
Ideas for specific situations:
A sibling feels like all the parent’s or caregiver’s attention goes to the patient. This is a common feeling, because the sick child does get a lot of attention and needs a lot of care. You can do the following:
- Try to give all your children time alone with you. You can take siblings for a walk or read them a bedtime story.
- If a sibling has a special event, try to find a babysitter to come and stay with the patient.
- When possible, allow siblings to make their own choices so that they still feel in control of their surroundings.
A sibling feels guilty about having a sick brother or sister.
- Tell your sick child’s sibling that the illness is not his fault. He needs to know that no one is to blame for the illness.
- Explain that everyone is different. Have children list how each family member is alike and different from the others.
- If possible, create a support system for your family. Try to meet other families who have a sick child. This helps siblings get to know other children who have similar feelings and are going through similar experiences.
Siblings have trouble being around their sick brother or sister.
- Support the patient’s siblings when they try to make friends outside the family.
- Understand that each child needs privacy. Find ways for the patient and his siblings to have private time and private places for their things. Help siblings find their own ways to be independent.
- Give each child praise and attention. Each child has strengths and talents and does things that make the family unique. Let each child know you appreciate what is different and special about him.
Siblings have many different feelings and emotions. Do not be surprised or upset. It is common for siblings to show anger at a brother or sister who is sick.
- Let your children know it is OK to be angry. Tell them it is normal to feel many different emotions when someone in the family is sick. A sibling might feel angry because he has a close relationship with the patient.
- Be open and honest about your own mixed emotions, feelings, and concerns. Telling your children about your feelings helps the whole family share feelings better. This is because your children learn how to act by watching you. Being honest about your feelings also helps your children trust you.
- Playing can help children cope with stressful and frustrating situations. Let your children play and do other activities together. This can help them work out their feelings.
You have less time for family and other activities because of the patient’s medical care needs.
- Try to blend the things you need to do to take care of your sick child with the family’s regular routine. Keep things as close to normal as possible.
- When you can, include all your children in family time, talking about things, and making decisions.
- Try not to give the patient’s siblings new responsibilities, such as added chores. Instead, use services St. Jude offers. You can also get support from family and friends who offer help. For example, a family member or friend can bring a meal, babysit, or go grocery shopping so you can spend time with the patient and his siblings.
Siblings try to protect the sick child.
- Siblings can be a positive influence on a sick brother or sister. Have them encourage their brother or sister to try new things or do activities on their own.
- Encourage siblings to notice things the patient does well.
Siblings are bullied or teased because they have a brother or sister with an illness.
- Pay close attention to how your children feel about going to school or school events. Learn how to spot signs that another child is bullying or teasing your child.
- Tell your child it is OK to feel alone and frustrated.
- Talk to your children’s teachers often. For siblings, it can help to have someone visit the school to tell students about the patient’s illness. This can help classmates understand what is going on and accept that the patient’s siblings are going through a hard time.
- Ask siblings how they are handling difficult things at school now. You can act out some of these things with your child. This can help him practice what to do in hard situations. It can help him know what to do if classmates tease him.
Siblings are worried about having friends come over.
- Help siblings explain the illness to their friends.
- Let siblings have friends over when your sick child is home and when he is in the hospital.
- Encourage siblings to spend time with their friends. Tell them it is OK to do things without their brother or sister.
Siblings seem worried about the future.
- When you can, try to include siblings in talks about their brother or sister’s treatment and care.
- Understand that guilt is a serious feeling. It is common for siblings to try to take care of a sick brother or sister. If the patient’s siblings are older, encourage them to go on with their own education and leave home for a career.