Blood and marrow transplant: Helping siblings cope

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Learn how you can help siblings cope, after your child's blood and marrow transplant (BMT).

Key points

  • Your other children may be feeling various emotions including jealousy, guilt, fear and sadness.
  • Talk to your child's siblings about illness, encourage them to share their feelings, and involve them in discussions about your child's care and treatment.

You may find it difficult to balance caring for your child undergoing the blood and marrow transplant (BMT) with the needs of your other children. Remember, your child's siblings are experiencing a variety of feelings.

Your child's siblings might be jealous of all the attention your ill child is receiving from you and relatives. It may make them feel resentful and left out.

Sometimes, your child’s brothers or sisters may feel responsible for the illness. This is common for children between five and eight years old. Older children might still feel responsible as well. They might feel guilty that they are not the ones with the illness.

It is also common for siblings to feel neglected or not loved as much as your child who is ill.

When the entire family focuses on your ill child, your other children may start to feel anxious about their own health. They may express their fears through physical symptoms such as headaches, bad appetite, and problems in school. Siblings might also become sick as a way of seeking your attention. If you see these changes in your other children, it may be a sign to give them extra attention and listen carefully to their needs. Talking with the hospital social worker may also be helpful.

Talk to your other children about your child’s illness

Be honest with your children about your child’s illness and the blood and marrow transplant (BMT). Use simple, age-appropriate language. Always use the right words, such as cancer or transplant. They will get used to hearing these words from hospital staff and family members. If you are nervous about using accurate words, your children will pick up on this fear. Using the right words will make them trust you and not feel left out of the discussion regarding their sibling’s health.

You are a role model for your children. Young children, particularly below the age of seven or eight, will feel secure and comforted if they sense that you are in control. Children older than eight will pick up on detail more. Even if your news may not be comforting, they respect your honesty.

Encourage your children to share their feelings so they know it is all right to be upset or sad. Share your feelings as well.

Often, siblings take on more adult roles while a sibling is ill, such as doing household chores and cooking. They may become more independent and withdrawn as a result. Your children are sensitive to what you are feeling, and may want to appear stronger than they feel.

Involve siblings in discussions

Including your other children in discussions about your child’s care and treatment will help bring the family closer together. Siblings may also feel less resentful about the attention their sick sibling is receiving.

Help your children feel like they can help too. This will make them feel acknowledged and not left out. You can try some of the following:

  • Encourage them to send postcards or video journals to their brother or sister.
  • Give them specific chores and household tasks.
  • Help them create a ‘Boredom Box’ for their sibling: collect crafts and gifts which their sister or brother can use while in the hospital.
  • Have them plan family activities. This will make siblings feel more secure. It will give them opportunity to take some "time off” from thinking about their sibling’s leukemia.
Last updated: November 30th 2009