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Helping Siblings Cope with a Brother’s or Sister’s Hospitalization

When a child is hospitalized, it can be stressful for the whole family, including the patient’s siblings. Children’s National Medical Center’s child life specialists provide some important information and tips for parents to help siblings cope.

Each child is different and may express their feelings in different ways. Parents know their children best and can judge if they are having trouble coping.

Common behaviors

  • Below are common behaviors of children who are struggling to cope with stressful events:
  • Some children will act out to get attention, while other may become withdrawn and quiet
  • Some children have trouble sleeping or lose interest in eating
  • Some children revert to behaviors they had when they were younger, such as thumb-sucking and bed-wetting
  • Some children may have trouble in school

Helpful Tips
Honest and open communication is one of the most important things to do to help children cope. When children understand the reasons for their sibling’s hospitalizations, it reduces their worries. Below are some other tips:

  • Let your children know that all of their feelings are ok.
  • Let them know that you are willing to answer their questions and listen to their concerns.
  • Young children often convey fears through play, so pay attention to that.
  • As much as possible, allow siblings to be involved with the patient’s care or other tasks that are helpful to the family.
  • Read books with your children that pertain to your particular situation.
  • Let your children’s teachers know what is going on so they can be aware of any changes in behavior.
  • If possible, allow siblings to visit the hospital. 

For more information or a consultation, contact the Child Life Department.

Related links

 Flu Resource Center 
 Facts about Flu Vaccinations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) **NEW** - 10/14/09
 Season and H1N1 (Swine) Flu Referral Guidelines (PDF) **NEW** - 10/13/09
 Talking with Children about Flu **NEW** - 10/08/09
 Flu Check List for Parents and Caregivers (PDF) **New** - 10/06/09
 Seasonal Flu and H1N1 (Swine) Flu Information for Parents **NEW**- 10/05/09
Centers for Disease Center - 2009 H1N1 Flu/ Swine Flu information
Helping kids cope with being in the hospital
Article: Pediatrics: Kids need specialized care in hospital emergency departments (September 2009)
Article: Volunteers Wanted to Test Swine Flu Vaccine (ABC News, July 22, 2009)
 Article: All Hands on Deck For Anticipated Swine Flu Surge (ABC News, July 23, 2009)
 Article: Children’s Chief Medical Officer discusses H1N1 planning on World News with Charles Gibson

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