Care For Siblings

When a child is diagnosed with an illness or is in the hospital, his or her siblings can react in many different ways. These reactions can change over time.

While most children cope well when they have a brother or sister who has an illness or is in the hospital, caregivers can still offer support to siblings.

Normal Reactions

Normal reactions for siblings include:

  • Feeling mad, sad, or scared
  • Feeling confused about why their brother or sister is in the hospital and why parents or caregivers are away from home
  • Feeling afraid that they might also get sick
  • Feeling left out or abandoned
  • Feeling jealous about attention and/or gifts that their brother or sister is getting
  • Worrying about being away from parents or caregivers
  • Worrying about their brother or sister
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Irritability or getting mad easily

How to Help Siblings

  • Be honest with your other children about what is happening to their brother or sister in the hospital, in ways your children can understand. There are people at the hospital who can help with this (see Hospital Resources)
  • Try and help siblings keep up with normal routines and activities as much as possible, such as going to school, seeing their friends, and participating in sports and other activities
  • Talk with siblings about a schedule for when parents or other caregivers are away from home
  • Plan for making sure someone is always with them to provide care
  • Make sure siblings know how to get in touch with parents and caregivers when they are away from home
  • Reassure siblings that they did not do anything to cause their brother or sister’s illness or cause them to be in the hospital
  • Let siblings visit, call, write, or draw a picture for a brother or sister who is in the hospital
  • Show siblings that it is okay to be upset and give them a chance to talk about their emotions
  • Plan special time just for siblings, even if it is brief
  • Help siblings figure out what to say when people ask about their brother or sister
  • Make sure siblings know that their baby brother or sister’s medical issues were not their fault or anyone else's
  • Let siblings know that they cannot “catch” their sibling’s illness; it is not like a cold
  • Let them be kids! Sometimes parents and caregivers need to rely on siblings for help around the house when their brother or sister is sick or in the hospital, but try to avoid having them take on the role of a parent. If possible, reach out to neighbors, friends, and family for help with practical needs.

When to Seek Extra Support

Signs it might be helpful for a sibling to talk with a psychologist or other mental health provider for some extra support:

  • Feeling sad or worried for a long time and this gets in the way of things like school, friendships, or other activities
  • Refusing to go to school or getting in trouble at school
  • Having a hard time focusing at school
  • Not wanting to be with friends
  • Not wanting to do activities he or she used to enjoy
  • Continuing to be overly clingy and fearful of separation from parent

If you have questions about how to connect with help for siblings, please talk with your social worker.