A child's illness or hospitalization can not only affect the child but also the entire family, including the siblings. Sometimes when a child has health care needs, brothers and sisters can have many feelings such as sadness, worry, anger, and/or guilt. These feelings can all be normal for brothers and sisters to experience. It takes time to work through them, and they may continue to have these feelings even after the sibling is home from the hospital.
Emotions brothers or sisters may feel
- Sad—because they miss you and their sibling.
- Lonely and left out—they may feel no one is telling them what is happening.
- Worried and afraid—worry about what is happening to their sibling, and worry that they or their parent may get sick too.
- Guilty—brother or sisters can sometimes think they caused their sibling's illness if they did something mean or had bad thoughts, or guilty because they are healthy and their sibling is not.
- Jealous—that their sibling is getting all the attention.
- Confused—they are not able to understand what is happening because things are not explained on their developmental level.
How these feelings can be expressed
- Saying they feel sick, complaining of stomach aches, or acting like the sick child
- Change in eating habits
- Becoming quiet
- Spending time alone or away from the family by choice
- Trying hard to please parents or other grown-ups
- Acting out by fighting, hitting, etc.
- Seeking more attention than usual
- Returning to younger behaviors, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, etc.
Ways you can help
- Talk together as a family about what is happening to the sibling. Give simple, honest explanations.
- Tell brothers and sisters how important it is to ask questions. If you are not able to answer them, find a doctor or nurse who can.
- Try and keep daily routines as normal as possible, such as school, sports, and bedtimes.
- Give your child special attention when you are able to.
- When possible, bring brothers and sisters to the hospital to visit. Prepare them ahead of time for what they will see, hear, and smell.
- Suggest that brothers and sisters draw pictures and cards to send to the hospital.
- Tell your child's teachers about the changes that are occurring at home.
- Seek support from family and friends.
- There are many people in the hospital who can help your family as well. Ask to speak to a child life specialist for suggestions on play sessions and books to learn ways in which you can talk to your child about what is happening.