Dealing with Siblings

If, as a parent, you have more than one child and one of your children is seriously ill, your attention will naturally be centered on the ill child. This might affect the siblings negatively because they may be too young to grasp the situation. In a case where there is more than one sibling, each child should be talked to about the illness, and then all the siblings should be spoken to together.

As a parent you must take the time to explain the circumstances to all your children, at an appropriate level so they can adapt more easily. They must understand their brother or sister’s illness and that it will not affect them, nor is it through any fault of their own that their sibling is sick. If any operations must be carried out, the siblings should be made aware of what it happening so they may be prepared for any physical changes the sick child will endure. Having said this, parents should vary topics of conversation to include things that the siblings enjoy and not talk solely about the sick child.

Feelings must be discussed and the siblings made to feel normal. Justified feelings such as happiness, sadness or worry must be distinguished from feelings of mistaken interpretation, such as envy, abandonment and contagion. Spending time with other family members and friends may help the sibling although they should not act as parental substitutes. It is important that parents maintain their bond with all of their children. Parents should split their time equally between the ill child in hospital and the siblings at home – alternating visitations should be considered.

Involving the siblings in any preparations, outings or progress reports (when appropriate) may make them feel more part of what is going on. In some families, siblings are compelled to take on duties that are beyond their years, which may result in negative behaviour. If this is the case, parents should maintain constant communication with their children and reassure them that if ever they feel overwhelmed, they should not be afraid to share their feelings.

Visiting the sick child in hospital may be beneficial for the siblings because they may see for themselves the surroundings their brother or sister is in. If a sibling does visit the sick child, then they must not be sick or contagious themselves as this might cause great harm to the already sick child. Similarly, if the sick child is suffering from an infection that is transmittable, the siblings should not visit. If this is the case, communication can always take place over the phone or through the Internet or pictures.