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Preparing Siblings for Surgery

When your child goes to the hospital, siblings may feel afraid, worried, or confused simply because they do not know what to expect, and may imagine the worst. They will also have to deal with being away from one or both parents, missing their brother or sister, or having to stay with other family or friends. Here are some of the feelings they might have:

  • Loneliness: They miss having their brother or sister to play with, and their parents around to care for and comfort them.
  • Abandonment: If they are not told about what is happening, brothers and sisters may feel like they are not important. They may worry about who will take care of them and may assume their needs will not be met.
  • Jealousy: Brothers and sisters often wish that they were the ones getting all the attention or presents from family and friends, and may be resentful or jealous of their sibling.
  • Guilt: Siblings may feel bad for having mean thoughts about their brother or sister, or feel like it is their fault their brother or sister is in the hospital. They might feel guilty for being healthy, when their brother or sister is ill.
  • Fear: They might think they can "catch" something from the sick brother or sister. They may be afraid the sick child will not get well or will not ever come home.

How do I prepare my other children for their sibling’s surgery?

  • Include siblings in conversations about the surgery - in words they can understand.
  • Make sure your children know why their sibling is going to the hospital.
  • Make sure brothers and sisters know that some other responsible adult will be caring for them during the time you have to be at the hospital, and that you will come back as soon as you can.
  • Try to set aside private time for you and your children at home so that they can get some special attention.
  • Read books about going to the hospital with the entire family.
  • Give many compliments and hugs. Take extra time to notice good schoolwork or jobs done at home.
  • Give the siblings the choice of visiting. If they choose to visit, help prepare them for what to expect. Always consult with the child life specialist.

What are signs of stress in children whose siblings are having surgery?

Children may react to stress by:

  • Changing eating habits (eating less than usual, eating more than usual, or being picky about what he or she will eat)
  • Not wanting to talk or be with family members
  • Behaving “too good”
  • Needing lots of hugs and attention
  • Doing things to get in trouble and get attention
  • Saying they feel sick too

How can I help the siblings at home?

  • Let the child at home know that it is acceptable to be afraid and to cry.
  • Tell the truth when you answer your children's questions, but be sure to use simple explanations your child can understand.
  • Keep routines at home as normal as you can.
  • Have your children at home draw pictures or make cards to send to the hospital.
  • Set up times for your children to talk to each other on the phone or to visit at the hospital.
  • Do not be afraid to ask family and friends to help. Simplify your life as much as possible. Remaining positive and calm can help the entire family.

As part of the Family Surgery Program at Atlantic Health System Children's Health, physician services are provided by Atlantic Medical Group and are on staff at Goryeb Children's Hospital.