The hospitalization of a child can be unexpected, traumatic and sometimes frightening for family members. The child life department recognizes that siblings can often be affected by their brother or sister’s health care experiences. Our specialists help siblings by:
- providing and promoting therapeutic play opportunities to help siblings understand the hospital setting
- teaching children about their sibling’s diagnosis and what it means in language they can understand
- providing education and support for grief and bereavement
Child life specialists are also available as resources to help caregivers understand and support their children when at home.
Although our child life specialists are invaluable resources for our patients and their family members, we feel that it is important to provide parents with information on how the illness of a child can impact his or her siblings.
Siblings may be feeling:
- Confusion: siblings may not understand what is happening and why: “What is wrong?” “Will my sibling get better?”
- Guilt: siblings may feel responsible for the hospitalization. They may think that something they have said or done has caused the illness or injury: “Is it my fault that my sibling is hurt/sick?”
- Fear: siblings may worry that the same thing will happen to them. They may be afraid they will “catch” the illness from the patient: “Could it happen to me too?”
- Anger: siblings may be upset and resentful about the changes that the hospitalization has caused in their normal routine and family interactions.
- Jealousy: siblings may think it is not fair that the patient is getting so much attention and wish to become sick themselves: “Why does my sibling get all of the attention?”
- Neglect: siblings may feel left out. They may feel that their parent no longer loves or cares for them because more time is being spent on the patient: “Why wasn’t it me?” “Don’t you care about me?”
Siblings may express these feelings by:
- Having nightmares
- Having problems at school
- Changing eating or sleeping habits
- Becoming withdrawn from family and/or friends
- Regressing to habits of an earlier age (bedwetting, thumb sucking, baby talk)
- Acting out/getting into fights
- Clinging to parents.
Tips on how to talk to your children:
- Be honest.
- Keep communication open. Allow siblings to ask questions. Children sense when information is being kept from them.
- Talk to them about visiting the hospital. It is better to talk to them about things than to have them imagine what might be going on. If you have questions about preparing a sibling for the hospital, please feel free to contact your floor’s child life specialist, or call the child life office at 714-509-8473 for help.
- Talk to them about what they will see, such as medical equipment, or how their brother or sister will look. Patients in the NICU or PICU are more critically ill, therefore it can be more difficult for parents to feel comfortable bringing in siblings. Please ask nursing to contact a child life specialist who can help facilitate a sibling visit.
- Tell them it is OK to feel nervous or scared. Help them handle and express their feelings.
- After a visit to the hospital, ask them if they have any questions or concerns about the visit.