Arrangements for siblings

Preparing siblings for the hospital visit

  • Describe and allow children to see the medical equipment being used to care for your child, including how it looks, how it sounds and how it is helping. By seeing the equipment and setting in which it is used, siblings will no longer have to rely on their imagination to make sense of things.
  • A child life therapist may be helpful in preparing siblings for a health care experience. Call the child life department at (502) 629-7542 to schedule a visit.
  • Describe to siblings how their brother or sister may look different than usual (bruises, abrasions, stitches, tubes, tape, bandages, etc.)
  • Encourage siblings to talk to and touch their brother or sister, even if the patient is unable to respond.
  • Allow siblings to determine the length of their visit, as much as is medically possible. Some children just need to see what is happening, and others may want to spend more time in the hospital room.

Afterward, siblings may want to go to the waiting room or outside to play. Children use play to help them cope with stressful situations.

Talking to siblings about treatment

Siblings of hospitalized children have a great need for information. Although you may want to protect your children by keeping information from them, what they imagine is happening may be far more frightening than reality. Some parents underestimate their children’s capacity to understand and their desire for explanatory information about their brother’s or sister’s injury or illness.

Children are better able to adjust when they are given honest and age-appropriate information and the opportunity to see their hospitalized brother or sister. In emergency situations, explain as soon as possible how serious the illness or injury is, and when your child will be able to see his or her sibling. For planned admissions, involve siblings in the preparation — packing for the hospital, hospital tour, etc.

Preschool-age siblings

  • Typically, young children interpret the world in terms of their own immediate observations. Because they have a limited range of experiences from which to draw, they engage in magical thinking.
  • To prevent misconceptions, preschoolers need to know that they cannot catch their sibling’s condition and they did not cause the condition.
  • Children ages 2 to 6 are concrete thinkers. Explanations should be as clear as possible.
  • Children in this age range are impacted by emotions of others around them.

School-age siblings

  • Grade school children with typical development patterns need information to answer their questions.
  • Older children may hold beliefs about the cause of the condition that place the blame on the ill or injured sibling. This may be a reflection of the sibling’s own anger, a part of the belief system of the sibling or family, or a projection of guilt onto the patient.
  • School-age children may have more specific questions than preschoolers. They may ask, “Why does she have to go to the hospital?”
  • Children in this age range are concerned about how the illness or injury will impact them.


  • Teens may feel confused, responsible, helpless, angry, lonely, afraid or guilty.
  • They may repress sadness.
  • Teens typically see themselves as invincible and have an “it will not happen to me” attitude.
  • They may want to assume more of an adult role and be protective.

Teenagers often have specific questions about the special needs of their brothers or sisters.

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