Emotional Support and Preparation for Siblings

Kids in Doernbecher wagon

Your child's illness or hospitalization impacts the entire family. How brothers and sisters respond to this situation can vary greatly with each child.

Your child's siblings may feel: 

  • Guilt that their sibling's sickness is somehow their fault. For example, "if I hadn't gotten into a fight with my brother, he wouldn't have gotten sick."
  • Jealousy because the sick sibling is getting a lot of attention and/or gifts.
  • Anger or acting out at schoolmates, at their sick sibling or others.
  • Worry or fear that they may catch the illness or get sick.
  • Loneliness or feeling left out of the hospital experience and the daily family routines.
  • Sadness causing them to avoid some of their normal activities.  

What you can do to help

  • Explain why your hospitalized child is in the hospital in terms their sibling can understand. Clarify that they did not cause the illness or problem.
  • Encourage your child to visit the hospital when possible. Talk with our child life specialists about how to prepare your child for the visit.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions or concerns they may have.
  • Give your child ways to express themselves, such as drawing pictures, writing in a journal or being physically active.
  • Spend time with your child, even if it is a short time. For example, call them from the hospital and do their bedtime ritual over the phone, and attend their games or other events.
  • Identify a trusted adult your child can talk to.
  • Encourage your child to go to school and keep as normal a routine as possible.

While these are common reactions to a brother or sister's sickness, they may or may not occur with every sibling. How each sibling reacts depends on each child's social, emotional and cognitive development.