Supporting Siblings of Pediatric Patients

Owen Langston

We know that siblings are affected by their brother or sister’s diagnosis and face many difficulties themselves. Although many siblings try to be brave and helpful, they may feel left out or alone.

As a parent, you want to be there for all of your children, but this can be difficult when one of your children is being treated for cancer.

“It’s normal for siblings to feel a wide range of emotions,” said a child life specialist at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “By identifying these feelings up front, we can help the siblings navigate through the journey.”

It’s normal for siblings to feel:

  • Scared about what might happen to their brother or sister
  • Guilty about being healthy and having fun
  • Mad that this is happening to their family
  • Sad for their sibling
  • Worried that they will get cancer, too
  • Lonely because they are seeing less of their parents
  • Jealous about the attention and gifts their sibling receives

What can be done to help siblings?

  • Keep siblings informed. Talk with your other children about their brother or sister’s diagnosis and what they can expect during their siblings treatment. If you need help, ask a Child Life Specialist to assist you in discussing diagnosis and treatment plans in an age-appropriate way.
  • Keep siblings involved. Find ways to include siblings in visits to the hospital. Often times it may help brothers and sisters to have a concrete view of the hospital and its surroundings when their family is away for lengthy treatments. Stay connected through texts, photos, phone calls, and video calls, if possible.
  • Listen and talk with siblings at home. Set aside a small amount of time, even just a few minutes, to spend with your other children. Check in with them about how their day went and ask how they are feeling.
  • Keep things as normal as you can. Arrange to keep your children involved in their own activities and events that are important to them. Rules, discipline, and structure will provide a sense of normalcy in an ever-changing situation. Setting limits for behaviors and activities can unknowingly provide comfort to siblings.

Resources available

MD Anderson’s Child Life program offers sibling support through education and activities.

Learn more about the SuperSibs non-profit organization that helps siblings with cancer redefine the cancer experience to face the future with strength, courage and hope.