Hey! What about me!?!
So, you have more than one child and wish that you could be cloned? Of course, you love all your children equally, but your ill child just needs you the most right now. How do you balance the interests of all your family members?
Ways to Help Siblings Cope
Being a child with an illness or injury is very scary-but being the sibling of someone sick is pretty scary too. Siblings of sick children can go through emotional or mental stress as they worry about their brother or sister, loose their sense of normalcy and routine and possibly feel left out from their family's or friends' attention. Here are some ways to help siblings cope.
Maintain Your Child's Identity: The movie Wonder follows the lives of a family raising a child with a sever disorder. The sibling of that child describes the family dynamic saying: "Auggie is the sun. Me and mom and dad are planets orbiting the sun." This aptly describes how siblings often feel.
It is important to acknowledge (and remind everyone else to acknowledge) that the sibling is their "own person" and not just the brother or sister of the ill child. Their identity, accomplishments and personality should be separate from their siblings illness. Try asking your child's medical team to refer to the sibling by their name, as well as share any exciting news about their accomplishments.
Include Siblings: Siblings can be confused about what is happening to their brother or sister. Make sure you explain to them what is going in and answer any questions they might have. Allow them to also speak to doctors or nurses if they want to. Also, speak to your child and prepare them on how to answer questions they are asked about their sibling's health. Depending on age, avoid sharing information with the sibling that the ill child has not been informed of as yet. You don't want information to be accidentally shared or give the sibling the burden of a secret to keep.
It's Ok to have Fun: Reassure your child that it's ok for them to continue to have fun with their friends and participate in activities. Sibling can often feel guilty about enjoying themselves when they know their brother or sisters can't at the moment. This advice is applicable for the whole family- including you.
It's Not Contagious: Assure them that what's happening to their sibling is not their fault. Reassure them that they cannot catch the illness, unless the illness is infectious. Let them know they won't also get sick by playing with their sibling.
Explain Difference in Appearances & Behavior: Some illness can make children look and act very differently from how they did before. Make sure to explain these changes to the sibling and let them know ways that they can best interact with their brother or sister. Even though they might look or act differently, they are still their sibling.
Maintain Routine: Juggling doctors appointments and hospital trips can be a lot to handle. However, it's important to maintain your family's routines as much as possible. This helps all family members feel a sense of normalcy in their lives. It's only natural to want to relax family rules, and although families will need to be flexible during treatment-maintaining rules and expectations help children feel secure.
Me Time: With everyone coming to visit their sibling, and with parents attention being focused on their child's medical needs, siblings can feel neglected. Devoting 10 minutes of your undivided attention daily to siblings will make them feel special. Remind visitors to try to spend quality time with siblings as well- or even take them out on a special mini adventure.
Seeking Help: Such a drastic change in the siblings life can cause shifts in behavior. Notice is they are feeling depressed, worried, angry, irritated or lost in their thought. If you notice they aren't coping well, reach out to a medical professional. Sometimes feelings of guilt, envy and neglect can be hard for a child to process. Hospitals often have programs to help siblings cope- find out what your hospital offers and take advantage of it.
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