Children have vivid imaginations, and when they are fueled by disrupted households and whispered conversations between teary parents, children can imagine truly horrible things. Seeing how their ill sister looks upon returning from a hospital stay can reinforce their fears that awful things happen at the clinic or hospital. Or, the sibling may think they are missing some grand parties when they see their sister and parent come home from the hospital with presents and balloons.
My son is only in kindergarten. He has separation anxiety worse than a 6-month-old. He doesn't want to go to bed alone. The last time Karissa had the flu, I thought he was going to die from worrying so much. He cried himself to sleep every night and woke up crying. He was so worried. He hasn't gotten much better since she has started feeling better, either. He doesn't even want to go near the hospital with his sister
Age-appropriate, verbal explanations can help children be more realistic in what they think happens at the hospital, but nothing is as powerful as a visit. Of course the effectiveness of a visit depends on your childs age and temperament, but many parents say that bringing the siblings along helps everyone. The sibling gains an accurate understanding of hospital procedures, the sick child is comforted by the presence of the sibling, and the parent gets to spend time with both (or more) children.
Another way to help a worried sibling is to read age-appropriate books together. Many children's hospitals have coloring books for preschoolers that explain hospital procedures with pictures and clear language. School-age children benefit from reading books with a parent (see Appendix D, Books and Online Sites). Adolescents might be helped by seeing videos on the subject or joining a sibling support group.
Veteran parents suggest that another way to reduce siblings' worries is to allow even the youngest children to help the family in some way. As long as children have clear explanations of the situation and concrete jobs to do that will benefit the family, they tend to rise to the occasion. Make them feel that they are a necessary and integral part of the family's effort to face leukemia together.
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