Helping Siblings Cope
The hospitalization of a child can be frightening and confusing, not only for
the child but also for the child's siblings. Siblings of all ages are affected
by the hospitalization. Some of the emotions that siblings may experience when a
brother or sister is hospitalized may include:
- Fear that they may
"catch" the illness
- Guilt that they have somehow caused the illness
- Anger at parents for "allowing" the sibling to become sick
- Abandonment feelings if parents are spending majority of their time
with the hospitalized child
- Jealousy due to special attention that the patient is
These feelings may be expressed in a variety of ways depending on the
developmental level of the sibling and individual personality traits of the
sibling. The sibling may express their emotions with the following behaviors:
- Regression to behaviors they have outgrown (thumb sucking,
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Withdrawing from family or peers
- Acting out to gain
- Increasing dependence on parents
Hints for helping siblings to cope:
- It is important to
give siblings honest, developmentally appropriate information regarding their brother
or sister's illness/hospitalization.
- Give siblings the choice
to visit the hospital. Visits can be reassuring and help clear up misconceptions
about what is happening to their brother or sister.
- Prepare them for
physical changes such as IV's, tubes, or casts. Explain what these items are
doing to help their sibling to get well. A Child Life Specialist can meet
with siblings to provide preparation prior to visiting the patient.
- Plan special time with siblings so they do not feel neglected or
- Maintain sibling's normal home, school routine, and
caregivers as much as possible.
- Share your own feelings with siblings
and allow them to express their feelings about the hospitalization with you.
- If the hospitalization is planned, include siblings in making plans
and packing with their brother or sister.
- Encourage siblings to attend pre-op preparation
Child Life Specialists are trained to help siblings
understand and cope with hospital experiences.
To contact a Child Life Specialist:
Outpatient Clinics: 955-5312
CARES Unit: 955-5305
Suggested readings: See