Soon after diagnosis, take time to have an open and honest discussion with your other children about what is happening. Even if your child is still in the hospital, make time to talk with your other children about what is happening with their brother or sister. Go home, if possible, or have someone bring your other children to the hospital to explain the situation in person.
Children often have many misconceptions about cancer, treatment and hospitalization that can lead to additional confusion or distress. Some brothers and sisters may believe that they can ‘catch’ cancer, that the well sibling is responsible for the illness or that God is punishing your hospitalized child. Resolving these false notions early will lessen any misunderstandings they may have.
Your healthy children may experience many strong and conflicting feelings about their ill brother or sister. They may feel sad about their sibling’s illness, while at the same time jealous of the extra attention they are receiving. These conflicting feelings can be confusing. Help your well children to talk about their feelings with you or with other trusted adults.
Children often worry about how their brother or sister’s illness will affect their lives. They may wonder, “Who will take care of me?” or “Can I still play on the soccer team?” Reassure them they will be taken care of and it is good to continue with normal activities.
Your child’s care team understands how difficult it can be to talk with your children about cancer. Your social worker or child life specialist can help you share information about childhood cancer treatment, its impact on the family, and other related issues. These staff members can discuss difficult feelings, family changes, and how children may feel about a person in the family with a life threatening illness. This is also a time when staff can clear up any misunderstandings your children may have about cancer treatment, emotions or the hospital.
The emotions brothers and sisters feel during this time can vary greatly. Openly sharing these concerns with others can increase acceptance and adaptation for the new situation. Sharing fears and concerns now may prevent potential problems in the future.
Sibling sessions can be an important part of your family’s treatment plan. We hope that brothers and sisters will be part of a sibling session with your social worker or child life specialist. You may ask your social worker or child life specialist to set up a session or for suggested literature that is helpful for children dealing with a brother or sisters who is ill.
For additional suggestions that can help your children cope with the changes that your family may experience, please see the link below.