Suggestions for Parents
Siblings of hospitalized children experience a variety of emotions. Their lives have also been changed and "disrupted" by this event. Be mindful that each child is different - an individual - and will therefore experience her own individual feelings and express them in her own individual ways. Caregivers know their child best, and you are the most qualified to identify your child's needs and concerns.
Behaviors you may note if your child is having a difficult time coping with the hospitalization or illness of a sibling:
- Having difficulty in school.
- "Acting out" to get attention.
- Regressing to previous behaviors (for example, a potty-trained child may regress to needing diapers again).
- Having difficulty eating or sleeping.
Honesty and communication are important. Explain clearly to your child what is happening with her brother or sister, in a language she can understand. When children do not have the information they crave, they often fantasize about what is happening to their sibling or the reasons behind the illness. Let your child visit the hospital to see that her sibling is OK, and be sure to prepare her properly for what she will see, as well as other possible sensory experiences. Keep the lines of communication open, and take the time to really listen to what your child is telling you. Encourage your child to communicate her feelings with you, and reassure her that all of her feelings are okay. For younger children who do not have the verbal capacity to express their feelings, pay special attention to their play habits and other ways young children have of expressing themselves; you may even want to engage your child in role play, in order to identify and correct any misconceptions she may have.
Typical feelings of children with a hospitalized brother or sister:
- Guilt for causing the sibling to be ill (fantasy).
- Lack of involvement in the sibling's care.
- Desertion by parents, family, and friends.
- Anger at parents for their inability to protect the sibling.
- Guilt for being the healthy child.
- Fear of "catching" the illness.
- Embarrassment at any visible signs of the sibling's illness or lack of capacity.
- Anger at the disruption in their own lives.
- Jealousy due to a lack of personal attention.
Be sure to inform your children's' teachers of what is happening, so they will be understanding of and observant of any unusual behaviors.
If you feel that your child could benefit from a consult with a Child Life Specialist regarding the illness or hospitalization of a sibling, please contact the Child Life Department at (504) 842-2032.