When one of your children is sick, their brothers and sisters frequently feel left out. Depending upon your siblings’ age and understanding, some feelings may be more common than others. Confusion, guilt, fear, rejection and abandonment are all common reactions. There are several ways children express their concerns or feelings. Different ages have different ways of coping with stressful situations:
- More clinging or dependency on parents
- Changes in eating habits
- Withdrawing or less involvement with family, friends or outside activities
- “Acting out” or misbehaving to get more attention
- Reverting to younger behaviors (bed wetting, thumb sucking, carrying a blanket)
- Acting jealous
- Declining school performance
How to Help Your Other Children
When your child is hospitalized, it can be difficult for your family. Often your other children may need to spend a lot of time with friends or relatives. This can be hard for them to understand. It is important to keep them involved. Incomplete information may create fantasies that are often worse than the real situation. Simple explanations are the best.
- Be honest. Your other children need to trust you will always tell them the truth.
- Let your children know that it is okay to ask questions and express their feelings.
- Read books about going to the hospital to help explain what is happening.
- Set up a time for your child life specialist to talk with your children.
- Try to visit with your children daily. Spend some special time alone with them.
- Try to maintain your child’s routine as much as possible.
- Keep your children updated and prepare them when their sibling returns home.
- If possible, allow them to visit the hospital.
- Reassure them that the rest of the family is not going to “catch” the illness/condition.
What Your Other Children Can Do to Help
- Play a game with their brother/sister who is sick to help them feel better.
- Pick out their favorite movie to watch with them.
- Send one of their stuffed animals or toys for their brother or sister to borrow.
- Write or tape record letters, songs or stories for their brother or sister.
- Send a new piece to a puzzle every day.
- Make a poster with family photos to decorate the hospital room.
For more information, call the Child Life and Child Development Department at 324-0146.