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Helping Healthy Siblings

Siblings of children with an illness must face problems of their own, including changes in the family patterns, concerns about the cause of the illness, and feelings of guilt and anxiety.

Changes in Family Patterns are due to:

  • A potential lack of parental attention at home due to the ill child's repeated hospitalizations, treatment, or clinic visits.
  • A disruption of personal and family routines including alternative caregivers, changes in mealtimes, and an inability to keep appointments or promises.
  • A reduction in parent's emotional availability at a time when siblings need reassurance, inclusion, and attention.

Concerns about the cause of a child's illness may arise due to the sibling's inability to comprehend cause and effect relations. Many siblings may feel as if something they did or did not do caused the illness.

Feelings of guilt and anxiety occur when the family fails to address illness related issues. Siblings are often concerned with whether or not the ill child will be able to cope with the pain and emotional trauma associated with illness, and these fears are compounded if the family does not communicate. In addition, siblings may tend to deep feelings to themselves in order to prevent causing additional stress and worry for parents.

Discuss Feelings and Emotions Openly
Keeping the lines of communication open regarding each others' feelings and emotions will greatly benefit the entire family. Parents may need to specifically address how siblings are handling a situation before they will open up and share.

Be Truthful About Each Situation
In order to prevent any fantasizing on the part of siblings, parents need to be truthful with regards to the child's illness and any potential side-effects, treatments, or behavior changes which go along with it.

Allow Siblings to Become Actively Involved in Ill Child's Care
Allowing Siblings to become actively involved in the ill child's care will promote control, self-esteem, and nurturance. Siblings will often find age-appropriate ways to show their concern and sympathy for the ill child.

Recognize the Sibling's Concerns
Many siblings are aware of the stresses which their parents and the ill child are under, and they may try to provide practical support. Parents need to recognize and acknowledge these attempts.

Provide Honest answers and Information
Siblings need to feel comfortable in asking questions and seeking information from parents and medical personnel. This may only be achieved if siblings are assured that they will receive accurate facts.

Provide a "Job" or a Task for the Siblings
There are many things which siblings may do in order to feel more a pare of what is essentially a family problem. Older siblings may act as liaison for family and friends who may call or stop by the house while younger siblings may read stories to the ill
child or help bring them comforting items.

*A very special thank you to the Child Life Department of Lutheran General Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, IL for permission to print this information which they provided. The EA/TEF Child and Family Support Connection sincerely appreciates their efforts to protect the emotional well being of the hospitalized child.