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Tips for Helping Siblings

Healthy siblings have their own set of unique needs when dealing with a sick and/or recovering brother or sister.  At times they may feel left out, may have misconceptions about what to expect from the recovering child, or have questions they are afraid to ask.  Although it may be difficult as your family transitions from hospital to home to school, please review the tips below to keep siblings included, informed, and supported.

  • Consider that the sibling's return to school may precede the hospitalized child's return.  The sibling may feel the burden of this.  He or she may also have to deal with questions and misconceptions related to their sibling, causing feelings of "Who is paying attention to ME now?"
  • Consider reactions of siblings in relation to what occurred with your hospitalized child. 
    • Was the sibling witness to whatever brought their brother/sister to the hospital? (e.g., seizure, car accident, etc.)  These are important factors to consider when helping a sibling cope. 
  • Consider counseling or support groups for siblings to give them a means to express their feelings, experiences, and needs in a safe way. 
  • Validate the healthy children's feelings about their recovering brother or sister.
  • Facilitate open communication among family members.
  • Provide direct, honest information about illness and treatment.
  • Encourage involvement with their recovering brother or sister - make them the "experts".  Allow them to be part of their brother/sister's school liaison program should one take place.
  • Speak with sibling's teachers both before and after your recovering child has been hospitalized.  The sibling may exhibit changes in behaviors even after the sibling has returned to school following a hospitalization.
  • Maintain normal routines and encourage the sibling to continue participating in activities (after school sports, clubs, etc.) even while the brother or sister continues to recover from hospitalization.
  • Discipline consistently - for both the recovering child and the siblings.  They will feel more secure if you maintain your normal approach.
  • If possible, make special time to be with the sibling; as the recovering child returns to school, they will most likely continue to need extra support and time, further reinforcing the sometimes "pushed aside" feelings siblings experience.