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Preparing Siblings for Surgery

Preparing siblings when a brother or sister is having surgery

When your child goes to the hospital, brothers and sisters may feel afraid, worried, or confused. They're often afraid simply because they don't 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. These are some of the common feelings siblings may have during this time:

  • Being lonely. They miss having their brother or sister to play with, and their parents around to care for and comfort them.

  • Being left alone. If they're not told about what's happening, brothers and sisters may feel like they're not important. They may worry about who will take care of them and may assume their needs won't be met. Who will feed them? Who will make sure they get to and from school? Who will make sure they're safe at home?

  • Jealousy. Brothers and sisters often wish that they were the ones getting all the attention or presents from family and friends, and become resentful or jealous of their sibling.

  • Guilt. Siblings may feel bad for having mean thoughts about their brother or sister, or may even feel like it's 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 won't get well or won't ever come home.

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

  • Include siblings in conversations about their brother's or sister's surgery in words they can understand.

  • Make sure your children know why their brother or sister 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'll 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 school work or jobs done at home.

  • Give the siblings the choice of visiting. If they choose to visit, help psychologically prepare them for what to expect (such as sights, sounds, feelings). Always talk with the child life specialist if you think a visit may be upsetting.

How will children at home show that they are stressed?

Each child may show signs of stress differently. Signs may include:

  • Eating changes. For instance, eating less than normal, eating more than normal, or being picky about what they'll eat.

  • Not wanting to talk or be with family members

  • "Too good" behavior

  • Need for a lot of hugs and attention

  • Doing things to get in trouble and get attention

  • Saying they feel sick too

  • Going back to younger behaviors such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting

How can I help the siblings at home?

  • Let the child at home know that it's OK to be afraid and to cry.

  • Tell the truth when you answer your children's questions. But use simple explanations your child can understand.

  • Keep care 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.

  • Don't be afraid to ask family and friends to help. Simplify your life as much as possible. Staying positive and calm can help the entire family.

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.