This post is also available in: Svenska
Siblings of sick children have special needs, but they are often forgotten. This happens especially in families with seriously or chronically ill children. The sick child often takes a very large part of the parents’ energy. As a parent in a family with several children, one of whom is ill, you have great demands on yourself. It is understandable that you do not always have the strength. This article addresses the siblings’ perspective.
Siblings need information
Children notice when there is stress in the family. All children try to create an understanding of the world based on their abilities. If you talk to the sibling of a sick child, are sensitive to their questions, and provide important information at their level, you help them understand their world. If you do not speak to them, there is a great risk that their understanding of the world will be jaded. The child, with their limited experience, will try to piece fragments of information on their own.
If you find it difficult to know how to talk to the sibling of a sick child, feel free to ask for help at a medical center. Both pediatricians, pediatric nurses, counselors and psychologists are good at this. In pediatric cancer wards and pediatric hospices in Sweden, there are sibling supporters who are available to help.
Siblings of sick children need free time with their parents
In a family with a seriously ill child, it is sometimes an impossible task to have enough time. Most children adapt to this and become kind and non-demanding. As a parent, it is important to recognize that the child has a need for your free time, even if they do not express it themselves. Your own playtime, coffee or cinema visit with the sibling of a sick child, a couple of times a month, goes a long way.
Ask how the sibling is doing at school, how their leisure activities are going and try to reinforce the positive and normal in their life. If they want to talk about the sick sibling, listen and ask about their perspective.
Continue a healthy life for yourself
Even if a sick sibling changes the everyday life of the whole family, it is important to continue living a healthy life and let that take up as much space as possible. Especially for the healthy sibling. Continue to attend your classes and your leisure activities. Meeting with friends becomes more important than ever.
Feel free to get help from the siblings friends’ parents. Explain the situation and ask the friends’ parents if their child can invite the healthy sibling home for a play date and sleepover. They will understand that you cannot return the favor and will probably be happy that you have made a concrete suggestion of how they could help.
Should siblings of sick children be at the hospital?
Absolutely! Siblings of sick children must know where the sick sibling is, and feel welcome at the hospital. The hospital can also be the only place where siblings can meet if the sick sibling has to stay inside for a very long time.
But it is seldom in the interest of a healthy sibling to move in and stay in hospital for a long time. A family with two parents usually divide the roles. For a single parent, it can be a difficult one to solve. That’s when you use the network around you, your family and friends. Are there grandparents? Aunts and uncles? Is there a preschool teacher that the child is attached to? Or a neighbor? Ask them for help.
In pediatric cancer wards and the children’s hospice Lilla Erstagården in Sweden, there are sibling supporters available to help. They are paid for by the child cancer fund which is why they are not available in other wards.
If your sick child does not have cancer or is enrolled in children’s hospice, they may not have access to some sibling support groups. The Ågrenska Foundation in Gothenburg (Sweden) organizes fantastic activities for families with sick and disabled children. They have sibling camps especially for siblings, but also sibling activities during their family weeks for children with different diagnoses.
Ågrenska has also made a great site about supporting siblings in families of children with disabilities or chronic illness. You will find lots of information, animated films and more.
If you are not based in Sweden and need support, reach out to a medical center OR the team in involved in taking care of your sick child. They should have the experience and contact to refer you to a great organisation.