Premature babies and helping siblings cope

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Read about helping siblings cope with having a disabled brother or sister. Resentment may be felt, which usually stems from being overlooked.

Key points

  • The most important way to help siblings cope is to talk to them and maintain open communication.
  • Sibling support groups may be available through the hospital or community-based organizations.

Siblings often get overlooked when their brother or sister has a disability. It can be a challenge for parents to meet the needs of all their children while looking after a child with special needs. It’s important to keep family life as normal as possible under the circumstances. Here are some ideas that may help siblings adjust.

Find sibling support groups through the hospital or community-based organizations. Other children who have gone through the same experience can offer support and understanding.

Ask your child how they feel. Any of the following feelings after diagnosis and during treatment are possible:

  • Guilt: Siblings may feel guilty that they are not disabled, or fear that they caused their siblings predicament. Assure them that they did not.
  • Jealousy or resentment: The child with a disability will get lots of attention, and will be missing school because of treatment. Siblings may feel this is unfair.
  • Isolated and abandoned: Siblings may be left in the care of others and will not see their parents as often.
  • A need for attention: Siblings may complain of headaches, vomiting, or other symptoms akin to those of the disabled child. These may be real responses to the feelings they have, a desire to seek attention, or an expression of sympathy for their sibling.

Talk to your children

Communication is almost always the best strategy to begin coping with family disharmony. Speaking openly and getting others to do the same can help those involved clarify their thoughts and feeling and let others know what their personal concerns are. This is an excellent step to finding solutions or coming to an understanding of what is going on in terms of the family dynamic. Here are some suggestions to get you communicating with your children and to reduce the possibility of family disharmony.

  • Review their day and ask about their interests.
  • Tell them what to expect in terms of the changes they will see in family life, and in their sibling.
  • Include them in discussions of their sibling’s problem and progress, based on their understanding and interest.
  • Update them about their sibling’s treatment and condition.
  • Thank them. It provides a positive reinforcement of the sacrifice they’re making in giving up time with you.
  • Bring them to the hospital for visits and give them the chance to talk to the treatment team.
  • Arrange for a special person for siblings to talk to. This could be a teacher, aunt, or uncle whom your children can confide in. If this works, don’t interfere with the relationship.
  • Try to keep the routine as normal as possible.
  • Arrange for your children to keep up with sports or music lessons, play time, and other activities.
  • Follow the same rules for behaviour at home as before. Different rules for different children can create anxiety and resentment among your children.
  • Give siblings tasks so they feel they are helping the family. They could make cards, decorate their sibling’s room, or they may have ideas of their own.
Last updated: October 31st 2009