As an organization of child life specialists, we recognize that siblings can often be affected by their brother or sister’s health care experience or a diagnosis of an acute or chronic illness. We recognize that siblings, even those who may not get along or see eye to eye all the time, are still quite connected and as a result, feel the
impact as well when their siblings are sick, hospitalized, or even just scared. As a child life specialist who has historically worked with pediatric patients impacted by chronic diagnoses, I have a passion for support siblings recognizing that they are tremendously impacted by their sibling’s diagnosis in their own ways.
In addition to working with children who are facing a medical diagnosis or hospitalization, child life specialists are well equipped to support the other children in the family. Child life specialists have a unique background and training to support parents whose other children may be affected by having a sibling who is hospitalized or facing a chronic diagnosis.
Siblings may feel a range and host of emotions including confusion, neglect, guilt, fear, anger, and jealousy and many of which can be hard to tease apart from the other. Confusion can be a result of a sibling not knowing or understanding about the child’s diagnosis, hospitalization, or medical treatment which can also create a sense of fear and wondering “what will happen next?”, or “will this happen to me too?”. Over the years, I have also had so many siblings share with me the sense of neglect they feel, even if they understand why it is happening and that it is not anyone’s fault. Recognizing these feelings in siblings can be a huge first step in helping them feel supported.
Often, these feelings will come out in some form or fashion. Siblings may experience nightmares, difficulty in school, regression of typical behaviors such as thumb sucking or bedwetting, acting out behaviorally or becoming increasingly clingy to parents.
One thing I always ask when talking with parents about the other siblings is “what do they know and understand?”. Clear and open communication can be crucial in helping siblings cope with a child’s chronic illness or even an acute hospitalization. Many times, siblings gather their information from what is being shared around them, many times by other adults, and are left with their imaginations to fill in the blanks. Siblings also benefit from knowing what to expect as the next step, even if the information is minimal. Siblings benefit from child life services in many of the same ways their brother or sister do. Knowing what is happening and why can make a world of difference to the child who is sick, hurt, or scared or the sibling who loves that same brother or sister.
"Siblings-the definition that comprises love, strife, competition and forever friends." —Byron Pulsifer