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Cancer turns the world upside down for brothers and sisters, too.
Siblings of children with cancer need attention and support. They need to know that their parents love them unconditionally and understand their fears and emotions. Parents should encourage siblings to share their feelings and give them ways to express their emotions.
Family members and friends can help. Hospital staff such as child life specialists, social workers, chaplains, and psychologists can provide support as well.
Every child reacts to stress in a different way:
Siblings should try to keep up with everyday routines to so life can be as predictable and stable as possible. They should:
Some siblings may think they caused their brother or sister to get cancer because of something they thought, said, or did.
Some may feel guilty that they are healthy while their brother or sister isn’t.
Some ideas that can help include:
It’s normal to get angry when a loved one is critically ill. Children can get angry at the cancer itself or at God for letting it happen. They might feel anger at parents’ shifted focus or even towards the sibling for getting sick. Some suggestions to help them:
Some siblings may imagine that being at the hospital is fun because the patient gets gifts, does not go to school every day, and spends extra time with their parents. They may only see pictures of the ill child smiling and having fun. If so, it is OK to share age-appropriate information about a more typical day, such as waiting for appointments, taking medicine, and having procedures.
It’s natural for children to feel uncomfortable when others see their brother or sister sick. People may ask questions about the cancer the siblings don’t know how to answer.
The relationship between siblings is important for everyone’s emotional well-being. Some ideas to nurture it:
Creating these opportunities for communication between the siblings can help them feel connected.
Reviewed: June 2018