Helping Children Understand When a Sibling is in the Hospital

Caring for a sick child has its challenges, especially when there are other children at home who also need your love and attention. The child life department is available for you and your family to help your children understand and cope with the challenge of having a sibling in the hospital. We are available for education and therapeutic support.

Siblings often express feelings of loneliness, jealously, and being ignored. It is natural for caregivers to put a majority of their focus and attention on the child who is in the hospital, and it is common to not address the needs of their healthy children. Siblings are often going through a very emotionally difficult time when their brother or sister is hospitalized.

Siblings often express feelings of loneliness, jealousy, and being ignored. Here are some examples of what they might be feeling and are having trouble expressing:

Age Developmental      Stage Response a sibling might have to their brother or sister beingin the hospital
1-2 Toddler Wondering where their sibling is and missing them.
3-4 Preschool Missing their sibling and parents and wondering when mommy and daddy will come home. Children at this age and through age 7 may have “magical thinking” which leads them to believe they caused the medical event to happen.
5-7 School age Understanding of why they can't see their sibling, and feeling angry or sad that they cannot go to the hospital to visit especially if they are too young.
8-11 School age Jealous or angry about the attention that their sibling is receiving
12-14 Pre-Adolescence Confused and worried about the well-being of their sibling, but unable to deal with their peers asking questions.
15-18 Adolescence Feeling their needs are being ignored when other adults (teachers, neighbors, and parents of friends) ask how their sibling is doing, not how they are feeling or how they are coping with this challenging situation. Siblings may also experience feelings of guilt about being the “healthy one” and questioning “why not me?”

Contact Phoebe H. Stein Child Life Program at CHAM

Donate to Phoebe H. Stein Child Life Program

Child Life Program Director
Meghan D. Kelly, MSEd, CCLS
Phone: 718-741-2360

For volunteers, school and community organizations, toy donations
Child Life Program Supervisor
Ingrid Ordóñez-Street, MEd/SpEd, CCLS
Phone: 718-741-2556

For internship opportunities
Senior Child Life Specialist Internship Coordinator 
Talia Haviv, MS, CCLS 
Phone: 718-920-2321