It can be challenging for parents to focus on the needs and concerns of the other siblings when one child has cancer. It is important to talk to other children about their brother or sister’s condition. They can have a hard time when one child in the family is diagnosed with a long-term condition. They can feel:
- Jealous of the attention their sibling is getting and feeling second best
- Missing you if you have to spend time in hospital
- Having normal routines disrupted
- Missing out on normal social events
- Having to stay with other relatives at times
Some brothers or sisters may behave badly to get your attention, or because they are frightened, and this can be hard to understand and deal with patiently.
Parents sometimes worry that children will be burdened with too much information, but they usually prefer to be told the truth. If you don’t tell them the truth, they may find out anyway from friends or from the internet.
Ways to help siblings:
- Your other children could attend hospital appointments to ask the doctor questions, or just to feel included
- Maybe they could help with treatments, e.g. doing physiotherapy exercises, helping to lay out equipment, etc.
- Try to keep their usual activities going
- If you are away from them for a long time, keep in touch by text or phone. Try using Skype so the children can talk to each other
- Write little notes for them to find in their lunch box, or under their pillow so they know you are thinking of them even though you are in hospital
- Try to keep to normal rules and limits to help keep some structure in their world
- Spend individual time with brothers or sisters when you can and try to stay involved in their activities and thoughts
Paediatric Psychology and Liaison Service (PPALS) is a specialist team within the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh that works with children and young people whose emotional difficulties are impacting on their daily functioning. Try the ideas noted above first, but if things are really tough, ask your doctor to refer.