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Bringing your child to visit a very ill sibling

What to Expect

Bringing a healthy child to visit a very ill sibling in the hospital can help the whole family. But, before you take your child to visit their ill sibling, prepare your child for the visit so they know what to expect.

How to Prepare Your Child

There are several things you can do to prepare your child:

  • Ask if the child wants to visit. It is OK if the child changes their mind.
  • Talk with your child about their ill sibling. The social worker, doctor, or nurse can help you choose words to explain the illness the sibling has.
  • Show your child a picture of the ill sibling in their hospital room.
  • Talk with your child about what they will see. This may include tubes, machines that monitor vital signs, and other medical equipment.
  • Bring your child to a sibling support group, if there is one available.
  • Have your child draw a picture or leave a gift for their ill sibling.

Your child will have questions about why their sibling is sick. The child will probably ask if their sibling will get better. You can be ready by having a social worker, nurse, or doctor there before, during, and after the visit.

Your child may feel angry, scared, helpless, guilty, or jealous. These are normal feelings.

Often children do better than adults when visiting their ill sibling. Be sure your child does not have a cold, cough, or any other illness or infection when they visit.

Make sure to follow hand-washing rules and other hospital safety rules.

References

Davidson JE, Powers K, Hedayat KM, et al. Clinical practice guidelines for support of the family in the patient-centered intensive care unit: American College of Critical Care Medicine Task Force 2004-2005. Crit Care Clin. 2007;35(2):605-622. PMID: 17205007 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17205007.

Kleiber C, Montgomery LA, Craft-Rosenberg M. Information needs of the siblings of critically ill children. Child Health Care. 1995;24(1):47-60. PMID: 10142085 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10142085.

Ridling DA, Lewis-Newby M, Lindsey D. Family-centered care in the pediatric intensive care unit. In: Fuhrman BP, Zimmerman JJ, eds. Pediatric Critical Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 9.

Review Date:5/18/2016
Reviewed By:Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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