Childhood Cancer

Your Child in the Hospital

Helping siblings cope

Being available to listen, to say, “I hear how painful this is for you,” or, “You sound scared. I am, too,” makes siblings feel they are still valued members of the family and, even though their sick or injured brother or sister is absorbing the lion’s share of parents’ time and care, they are still cherished. You can help siblings of a sick or injured child by keeping them involved, making sure they know they are loved, and addressing any problems that develop.

• Make sure that all the children clearly understand the nature of the illness or injury. If an illness is contagious, ask your doctor about special precautions and explain these to the whole family.

I’m fifteen now. Looking back at my brother’s long illness, the parts I hated the most were: not understanding what was being done to him, answering endless worried phone calls, and hearing the answers to my own questions when my parents talked to other people.

• Try to spend time individually with each sibling (e.g., take a trip, see a movie, or ride bicycles together).

• Include siblings in decision-making. Let them choose how to parcel out extra chores or plan a schedule for parent time with each child.

• Alert siblings’ teachers about the stress at home. Many children respond to worries about a serious illness or injury by developing behavioral or academic problems at school. It helps to communicate frequently with siblings’ teachers and try to stay abreast of any developing problems.

• Encourage a close relationship between an adult relative or friend and your other children. Having someone special around when parents are absent can prevent problems and help your child feel cared for and loved.

• Expect siblings to develop some strong feelings or behavioral problems if your child’s illness or injury is long-term. This is normal.

• Give lots of hugs and kisses.

Kim’s hospitalizations were very hard on five-year-old Kelly. My parents kept Kelly during the week, so this helped a lot. My husband would pick her up after work. I remember being at the hospital all week long, then my husband would come on the weekends and I would go home and do things with Kelly. We would go out to eat, or go roller-skating. I really missed her and it was just so hard on everyone. I remember being so tired, but I feel that you need to spend time with all of your children because they need you also.