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Helping Siblings of Hospitalized Children

It is natural for children to have certain emotions when their sibling is in the hospital. We are here to provide guidance for navigating this time, both at the hospital and home.

Supporting Siblings at Home

What should I tell my children at home?

Honesty is very important with children, even in tough situations such as a hospitalization. The details that should be given to the siblings at home depend greatly on their developmental age. Adolescents can comprehend and appreciate more details than a toddler or young school age child. Use basic terminology, brother's stomach is sick or sister's getting special medicine in your explanations. Child life specialists are available on every unit and can help you find the right words to use when explaining illnesses/ diagnoses to children and teens. There are also many children's books available that can be a great resource. Regardless of age, find a way to involve your children at home in the care of the hospitalized sibling!

Siblings are typically able to visit a brother or sister in the hospital when accompanied by a parent/guardian. However, there are situations where medical staff recommends siblings not visiting. Some of these reasons can include: infection control precautions, low stimulation precautions, or the severity of illness and interventions the hospitalized child is receiving. Please consult with your nurse, doctor, or child life specialist if you have any questions regarding sibling visitation.

What if siblings can’t visit?

There are many ways to get siblings involved even if they cannot come to the hospital. Have siblings write letters to one another or have the sibling at home illustrate a picture to hang in the hospitalized child's room. Phone calls, Face time, and Skype are also a great way to include the siblings and foster sibling relationships.

What behaviors can I expect from my children at home?

It is not atypical to see a change in behavior from your children at home, especially if the sibling has been hospitalized for longer than a few days. Siblings can begin acting up out of frustration or anger. Some siblings experience feelings of jealousy since the hospitalized child may be receiving gifts, balloons, and more one on one attention from mom or dad. Recognize these feelings if you see them in your child and speak with him or her about them.

Helpful Tips

  • If possible, find ways to spend quality time with your children who are at home. Remind them they too are special and loved by mom and dad.
  • Encourage family members to include your children at home when providing balloons, cards, and other gifts. Siblings will love receiving Thank you cards for being such great helpers!
  • Siblings can even assist in direct care when appropriate (i.e. bathing, changing diapers, holding supplies)