Help for siblings

Advice and support to help your children cope with a cancer diagnosis in the family

When there is a childhood cancer diagnosis in the family, it is normal for each family member to react in different ways. For a brother or a sister, this can be an especially stressful time. Attention is commonly focused on the child with the cancer, with family routines changing resulting in increasing confusion around what is happening and how it relates to everyone in the family.

Often the healthy sibling(s) will mourn the loss of their relationship with their brother and sister, who is sick and whose life is now consumed with appointments, tests and treatments. Other reactions may include:

  • Fear and anxiety about their sibling’s cancer.
  • Anger and resentment at getting less attention from family.
  • Stress at what is expected from them and their responsibilities.
  • Difficulty coping with these changes.
  • Behavioural changes.

As a parent or caregiver, it can be difficult to juggle the ongoing challenges of care for your child with cancer while still providing quality attention to their siblings. The most important thing you can do is be honest and transparent with your children every step of the way, while taking into consideration their age and stages of development.

How to help sibling(s) through a cancer diagnosis

Some of the strategies that have helped healthy sibling(s) cope with a childhood cancer diagnosis in the family are:

  • Supporting them to maintain their relationship with their brother or sister, such as by allowing them to visit their sibling while in hospital.
  • Teaching them in simple terms about their sibling’s cancer and treatment.
  • Answering all questions honestly.
  • Reassuring them that they did not cause the cancer and it is not contagious.
  • Ensuring they have daily contact with a parent or trusted adult as part of their new routine.
  • Encouraging them to share their feelings.
  • Providing reassurance that they are just as loved as their sibling with cancer.
  • Comforting them through both physical touch and gentle words.
  • Supporting older children to choose where to go after school and who they prefer to care for them when a parent cannot be there (where possible).
  • Monitoring them closely for concerning behaviours and asking for help from your care team when necessary.
  • Supporting them to still participate in activities they enjoy and not to feel guilty.
  • Allowing them to participate in the care of their sibling with cancer – e.g. helping to pack for hospital visit/stay, helping to prepare their meals etc.
  • Planning an outing or an activity together only for the healthy sibling(s).

Support at Icon

Supporting your family through a childhood cancer diagnosis can be emotionally and physically exhausting as a parent. We are here to help each member of your family to navigate this difficult time and do our best to be there in your time of need. If you’re concerned about your children and how they are coping, we can connect you with additional support.

Remember that it is also important to look after yourself during this time. For information on coping with a cancer diagnosis for parents, click here.

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