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- Withdrawn behavior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
- 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:
- 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 email@example.com.