Supporting Siblings of a Hospitalized Child

When you have a child in the hospital, everyone is affected, especially brothers and sisters. Children who are hospitalized often receive more attention, special treatment and gifts. Brothers and sisters can experience many feelings as they try to understand and deal with the change in family life and routines. Being aware of their possible reactions and talking with your children are the first steps in supporting each child.

Common reactions of brothers and sisters might include worry, jealousy, resentment, embarrassment, guilt, sadness and loneliness. You may notice increased moodiness, behavior changes and school difficulties. With extra care and attention, this stressful time can also result in positive effects for your children, such as being more understanding, mature and resilient.

Here are some tips for balancing the needs of your hospitalized child with support for your other children.

Meeting the Needs of Siblings

  • Recognize that illness and hospitalization affects the whole family in different ways.
  • Remember that honest and ongoing communication helps children understand the events or situation affecting their family.
  • Reassure siblings that they most likely will not also become sick or injured.
  • Continue daily routines as much as possible. Children do better keeping their usual schedules and rules for home, school and other activities.
  • It's the little things that count. Help children feel valued, loved and remembered as an important part of their family, whether you are in the hospital or at home.

Communicating With Your Children

  • Give them information they can understand.
  • Talk to them about how they feel about their brother or sister being in the hospital.
  • Discuss their concerns about visiting the hospital.
  • Acknowledge how hard the situation is and let them know you appreciate their efforts.
  • Keep your kids connected. Ways to do this include:
    • Call or write emails
    • Share drawing or photos
    • Make videos or voice recordings of stories, songs or messages
    • Create and exchange CDs of favorite music
    • Make a get-well banner

School and Community Support

  • When you are not able to be with your other children, arrange for a caring adult — such as a grandparent, neighbor or friend — to spend time with them.
  • Choose someone at your children's school, like a teacher, counselor or coach, to help support them during this time.
  • Let others help your family by running errands, making meals or driving carpools. This may allow you more free time to spend with all of your children.

Helping Siblings Feel Included

During the hospitalization, siblings can participate in activities at home and while visiting to feel more included.

Home Activities:

  • Choose photographs of family, friends, favorite trips and familiar objects to bring to the hospital to decorate their brother or sister's room.
  • Create artwork for their brother or sister's hospital room.
  • Help pick their brother or sister's favorite things to send to the hospital, such as stuffed animals, clothes, movies or pictures.
  • Write letters and cards to keep their brother and sister informed about news at home or at school.
  • Design a door sign with their brother or sister's name and messages for visitors.
  • Record favorite songs, stories, jokes and greetings to send to the hospital. Voices of familiar people can be comforting.
  • Put together care packages to send to the hospital. They can include notes, drawings, gifts or pictures from home.

Hospital Activities:

  • Invite siblings to visit whenever possible and appropriate.
  • Prepare siblings for what they will see and hear. If their brother or sister's behavior and appearance are different than normal, describe how the brother or sister may look or act. Child life specialists can help provide support for visits.
  • Encourage siblings to visit the Child Life Department's activity rooms such as the Playroom, School Room, All-Stars Technology Room and Teen Lounge. They can attend with their brother or sister, or visit on their own if appropriate.
  • Create opportunities for siblings to engage with their brother or sister if appropriate. They can create art projects together, read books together, attend programming and play together.
  • Introduce siblings to familiar figures in the hospital who are involved with their brother or sister's care. These may include doctors, nurses and child life specialists.

 

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.