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Author: Jes Upop Coordinator .

Meeting the needs of children and youth who have a sibling with a chronic illness or lengthy hospital admission

A brother or sister’s illness or hospitalization can have quite the impact on siblings. This medical situation is entirely new to them and the family as a whole. The sibling may hear and see things they don’t fully understand, their routines may be shaken up, and they may be separated from their family during hospital visits, admission or appointments. These siblings often find their brother or sister is receiving special attention and they themselves tend to feel left behind.

This is all normal.

The family may start to feel challenges affecting their dynamics and relationships, and the siblings can often start to feel lonely, isolated, confused, guilty, angry or worried. Parents may start to find the siblings of these children with illness or hospitalization are expressing their feelings through new behavioural issues, such as a difference in eating and sleeping habits, aggression, becoming withdrawn, difficulties in school, regressing to skills of an earlier age (such as wetting the bed), and clinging to parents.

This is all normal, too!

So how can we support these siblings?

Being aware of these changes and talking openly with your child is the first step in supporting them during this stressful time.

Tips for Supporting Siblings

  • Talk openly and honestly with your child about the events or situation affecting the family using information and language they understand. It is important to do this throughout your journey.
  • Continue daily routines and schedules as much as you can. Keep up their expectations (they still need to do their homework!) and engage in regular family traditions (do you have pizza night every Friday? Bring it into the hospital with them!) This gives your child a sense of security and stability.
  • Talk with your child about how they are feeling about their brother or sister’s illness or hospital admission; ask them if they have any questions or concerns.
  • Acknowledge these feelings and thank them for telling you! It’s normal to be feeling the way they are and your child needs to hear this.
  • Keep all your children connected with one another. This can be done through phone calls, texts, video chats, sharing drawings or photos, and making gifts like cards for one another.
  • Try to maintain alone time with the sibling. Would you have normally gone to their soccer game? Arrange for someone to stay with your other child so you can make these special moments.
  • Continue to reassure siblings that they did not cause this, they most likely will not get sick themselves, and that they are valued and loved.

Who else can help you?

            It really does take a village to raise a child! Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

  • Let your child’s school know about this situation so they have someone available there, like a teacher or counselor, to support them.
  • If you are not able to be with your child, make arrangements with an adult who your child is familiar with to spend time with them.
  • Look into support groups for siblings. Siblings will have the chance to meet and interact with others who are sharing the same feelings and experiences as themselves. This helps relieve feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Do you know a youth who is a sibling and is in need of more support? Upopolis can help! With a doctor’s referral, your sibling can join our new Sibling Pop-Up, a safe, online space where siblings can meet and connect with one another. Visit upopolis.com – Healthcare Professionals to have your child referred to our online platform, or e-mail support@upopolis.com for more assistance.

The takeaway? It is important for siblings to know that everything they are feeling is normal, and that they are a valued member of the family. Expressing their feelings, whether that’s with you or another support person or group, is key to helping them cope during these stressful situations. You may find that with some love and attention to detail, this stressful time turns into a positive experience for siblings and can help them develop into understanding and resilient adults.