Sibling Support

Helping Brothers and Sister Cope When a Child Goes to the Hospital

  • Give honest answers about the reason for hospitalization that are appropriate to his or her level of understanding.  Encourage the child to ask questions and express feelings.
  • Preparing and planning are just as important for the healthy child as for the child who is sick.  Be honest before, during and after the hospital stay
  • "Play" about hospital experiences with dolls, puppets or people.  This is a good way for children to express feelings when they may be uncomfortable talking about their feelings.
  • Read stories about hospitals or encourage the child to make his/her own story about what it's like to have a brother or sister spend time in the hospital.
  • Encourage the healthy child to visit the hospitalized child if possible.  This can help to clear up misunderstandings or fears.  Talk to your child's nurse or a child life specialist about this opportunity.

Common Reactions to a Sibling's Hospital Stay

  • Temporary changes in eating and/or sleeping
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Attention getting behaviors at home or school
  • Anger
  • Regression of behavior such as bed wetting or thumb sucking

 Most of these behaviors are temporary and will be resolved within a short time.  Not all children express their feelings in these ways, but how they respond is affected by several factors including:

  • Age       
  • Length of hospital stay
  • Seriousness of condition
  • Amount of time separated from parents
  • Quality of explanations and answers to child's questions
  • How well their normal routine is able to be maintained
  • Past hospital/health care experiences
  • Amount of attention to the child's feelings

 Child Life Specialists can assist you with questions relating to how your healthy child at home is coping.  You can reach a Child Life Specialist at the Penn State Children's Hospital at childlife@hmc.psu.edu.