700 Children's Blog

Things to Do If Your Child Has a Sibling in the Hospital During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mar 20, 2020
Child sitting on dad's lap looking at tablet

The continued conversations and decision-making around COVID-19 or “coronavirus” can leave many feeling uncertain. Many are having to adapt and change their regular routines given the World Health Organization’s recommendations for social distancing and other developing protocols. Widespread protocols limiting visitation in healthcare settings can feel challenging as there are often concerns about the well-being of admitted patients.

For children who have a brother or sister admitted this could raise questions: Is my sibling okay? When will they come home? Why can’t I visit them? What happens at the hospital? Will I get sick?

Separation - whether from siblings, grandparents, peers, teachers, teammates, neighbors, or friends - can be difficult for children; this can be worsened in a climate where many are worried about the health of themselves or others. Providing developmentally-appropriate education and intervention to children can ease their anxieties about separation and help them cope, given the unpredictable.

Encouraging Connection

While you may be unable to connect in person, consider other forms of communication such as phone calls, texting, or video calls. Additionally, giving your child a “job” such as creating a video, coloring a picture, making a card, writing a note, or creating “sibling mail” which can be delivered at a later time can be helpful.

You can also create an e-card online that will be printed and delivered to the patient’s room.

Talk Openly About Feelings

Children can sense their caregiver’s mood and feelings. Being open about your feelings can help guide the conversation and model self-expression. Make helpful statements such as “I’m sad our whole family can’t visit Derek at the hospital right now, but I’m happy the doctors are taking care of him.”

Help children to identify their feelings, which may range from: scared, angry, relieved, confused, jealous, happy, or sad.

Provide Outlets for Coping

Encourage your child to continue participating in the activities they enjoy. Create diversions that promote positive coping with  activities such as singing, dancing, building with blocks, coloring, playing video games, imaginary play, and physical activities. Some outdoor activities, such as sports, may need creative adaptation.

Maintain Routine

Children benefit from consistency, predictability, and routines. Attempt to maintain their regular sleep/wake cycles and mealtimes. Let children know who their caregivers will be, when and for how long. Having a schedule in which there are predictable play, meal, learning, sleep and family times can be helpful.

Being Honest With Your Child About the Time Frame

If your child asks how long it will be before they can see their sibling, it is okay to say, “We don’t know how long it will be before you can see Derek. The doctors want to be sure he is safe before visitors are allowed or he can come home from the hospital.” Re-direct the conversation into ways they can connect despite the separation.

Share About the Reason for Hospitalization in Developmentally-Appropriate Terms

When children are unable to visit the hospital, it is important to let them know what is happening so that they don’t have misconceptions or excessive worries. Use simple language to explain the reason for admission, type of care the hospitalized child is receiving and medical equipment they need. Give children the opportunity to ask questions.

During your inpatient admission, Certified Child Life Specialists are amongst psychosocial team members that are available to help support and address concerns listed above.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital has implemented visitor policies to protect the health of patients and families.
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Megan Francis
Child Life Specialist

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.