Difficulties like performing poorly in school or developing bad behaviors can often occur in healthy siblings of the diagnosed child. Studies have shown siblings to express a wide range of responses. Actions like, loss of motivation, misbehaving, or withdrawing to excellently performing beyond expectations. Children will try to do what they believe will keep the family together, it’s up to the parents to help. Taking proactive measures will help to guide them to show their emotions in a positive way.
Use a Line of Open Communication to Reassure Siblings
It is incredibly important for healthy siblings to know and understand the facts surrounding cancer. Especially that nothing they said or did caused cancer in their brother or sister. As causes of most cancers are unknown, the fear of a sibling’s diagnosis can leave children feeling guilty or scared of catching it.
Doctors and nurses can help you find age-specific information so you can share information with the healthy sibling(s). Helping them understand also helps them feel like they are involved and a part of the family team. In addition, it’s normal for them to be questioned in school about their siblings’ condition. By providing frequent updates and answering questions can help them from feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Help Siblings Understand That They are Just as Important and will Always be Loved
In addition, sharing this information will help them from feeling left out or unloved. When a child falls sick to cancer, it regularly requires a large amount of energy and time from parents. This can lead to siblings feeling angry, anxious, and even guilty for feeling those emotions. Bad behavior in school or at home is also a way siblings use to try to regain their parents attention. Furthermore, the changes occurring to their lifestyle can be difficult for children to handle. They need reassurance and support from family members, friends, and parents to help them as they struggle. Let them know how you would be there for them if they were sick. What’s more, if they want to find ways to help, express how much you value their help.
Let Siblings be Involved in Making Decisions
For both the sick child and the healthy one(s), the bond between siblings is vital to their health and development. What’s more, this sibling bond is going to need assistance and encouragement to keep developing from parents. To help combat loneliness and anxiety, offer ways healthy siblings can support the diagnosed child in the hospital. This will also help stimulate a feeling of stability and control when their world feels like it has been shaken. Some ways siblings can be involved:
- Simply spend time together with regular visits when possible
- Keeping in touch by phone calls, text messages, letters, and even drawings
- Choose toys to take to the hospital
- Read a book or play board/card games
- Help them invite friends over
- If they need to stay with someone, let them who they would like be with when possible
- Ask for their help but be careful not to overwhelm them with extra chores
- Be proactive about protecting their siblings health by frequently washing their hands
- Take some deep breaths
When Possible, Keep Regular and Consistent Routines
Due to the nature of cancer treatments, activities like school or sport events can be hard for parents to attend. In addition, watching other kids with their parents can create a sense of loneliness and lack of support. This is why it’s important to continue after school activities and weekend routines as much as possible. It’s recommended to have at least one parent spend time with the healthy siblings when possible. Also, be sure to encourage phone or video calls to simply tell about their day or share their feelings.
Spending time with friends or doing activities that they enjoy should be encouraged as well. Even preparing a meal together or watching a beloved movie can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Furthermore, keeping a consistent schedule and informing of schedule changes also supports a sense of security and stability for children. To help ease the fear of the unknown, let children know what to expect for the day or week ahead.
Be a Role Model to Show Them How to Handle Stress
Through the difficult times, reassure your children that it’s perfectly ok to have fun. Doing things they enjoy is an easy way to relieve stress and look forward to the next day. Set aside time for doing simple things like journaling, drawing or creating crafts, physical games, or whatever they enjoy doing.
When there are times where stress overwhelms you, have a heart to heart chat with your children. Help them understand the stressful situation and express your regret for your reaction at that moment. Remember to nurture an environment where your children can talk about their stress. Share how you are feeling and what you do to relieve stress in a healthy manner. Give them ideas to try such as:
- Talking to friends, teachers, or family members
- Journaling, writing emails, or letters (even if you don’t send it)
- Make a planner schedule and set goals
- Take deep breaths while counting
- Taking walks
- Listen to music
- Get plenty of sleep
Don’t forget to request help from support groups or mental health experts if you need it. Many hospitals have recommended professionals that can help provide support for you and your children. Taking care of your physical and mental health is also a good way to model positive behavior. Furthermore, asking for assistance from family members, friends, close neighbors, or medical professionals shows your children how to build a support network when life gets rough.