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When a sibling has cancer : things to tell your children

The siblings of children with cancer sometimes feel forgotten in the midst of a diagnosis. Parental attention is suddenly shifted, and daily routines, family roles and family responsibilities can change for a while.

Along with feelings of sadness, fear and anxiety, siblings may be struggling with more complicated emotions such as guilt, jealousy, resentment and anger. Because so much focus is on their brother or sister, they may feel that their needs do not deserve to be meet and that they have no right to complain.

For many children and teenagers, fitting in with their peers is very important. This means they may feel embarrassed or self-conscious about their family now being different to other families. Some may be reluctant to tell their friends and teachers about the situation at home. If cancer changes how their brother or sister looks, they may feel embarrassed and shy away from being seen with their sibling.

You can help your children adjust to the changes in your family by talking openly and honestly. The tips listed oin the article How talk about the cancer of a child with a kid  might help, but your kids may also be reassured to know the following:

It’s not their fault

Check that siblings realise that they did not cause their brother or sister’s cancer – even if they had been fighting with them or thinking mean thoughts about them.

What they can do

Explain that they can help support their brother or sister, and let them think about how they would like to do that. The sibling relationship is still important, so try to offer plenty of opportunities to maintain it. This may involve regular visits to the hospital and/or regular contact via phone, email or social media.

It is okay to have fun 

Even though the child with cancer has to have a lot of attention at the moment, the needs of their siblings matter too. As far as possible, they should keep doing their own activities and have time for fun.

They are still just as loved

Explain to siblings that you may need to spend a lot of time and energy focused on the child with cancer, but this is out of necessity rather than feeling any less love for your other children. Naming the challenges and acknowledging the impact can really help.

They will always be looked after

Let them know that you will make sure someone is always there to look after them. Talk to them about who they would like that person to be if you can’t be there yourself.

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