Help Your Child Deal with a Critically Ill Sibling

When a Child is Critically Ill

It can be scary and overwhelming to cope with the uncertainty of a very sick child, both for you as the parents and also for your healthy child. However, there are things you can do to help yourself and your healthy child make it through this difficult time.

1. Acknowledge His Feelings

Remember that your healthy child is likely to being going through a jumble of emotions. He may feel helpless, angry and even worried that he could have done something to cause the illness, or guilty that he's well and his ill sibling isn't. You can help your youngster to cope with such reactions simply by listening and paying attention to his needs and concerns. Keep in mind that he may also regress a little at this time, and can benefit from your reassurance that this is a temporary state.

2. Reach out to the experts.

Give your healthy child an appropriate amount of information about the ill sibling, so he'll know what's happening instead of being left to worry without any real facts. Just be sure to consider his age, emotional state, and his personality when deciding how much to share. If you're in doubt about what he can handle, you should reach out to your sick child's doctor and ask him to help you connect with appropriate hospital staff for guidance. Often a child psychologist or social worker can be a valuable resource in helping you to support your well child and determining the right words to explain the illness in a way that he can understand.

3. Bring him to visit the ill sibling.

Many experts believe it can be helpful to offer to bring a healthy child to visit a very ill sibling in the hospital. He may not feel up to this, though, and you should respect his decision if he declines. But if he accepts, be sure to prepare him in advance so he won't be surprised to see his ill sibling with medical equipment and nurses around. Also remember that he may feel better to actually see for himself what's happening rather than hearing about it second hand.

4. Find avenues of support.

Seek out avenues of continuing support for your healthy child. Most hospitals can connect you with support groups geared specifically for children with an ill sibling. This can be a valuable resource, providing an opportunity for him to share his concerns with others and find out that he's not alone.

5. Stick to the routine.

When your family is going through such a difficult situation, it's natural that your everyday schedule will be turned upside and your attention will be split. But the most important thing you can do for your healthy child is to make some time for him and try to keep his life as normal as possible. Sticking to the regular routines as best you can will also provide some comfort to him and can be essential during a time of such stress.



Casey Cares Foundation

Children's Hospital, Parenting Center

National Center for Biotechnology Information

Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation

Shands Healthcare