Helping Siblings Adjust

  • Time is a difficult concept for young children. They may expect that, when their brother or sister comes home from the hospital, everything will be fine again. Try to explain progress in terms they can understand based on their own experiences.
  • Explain the person’s abilities or limitations to siblings in order to avoid further injury or complications.
  • Give siblings time alone with you to ask questions and express feelings. Make sure to make time for all the children.
  • Prepare children for changes, especially if they are to be directly involved in physically caring for their injured brother or sister.
  • Siblings may be asked to take on new or additional responsibilities in the household and they may resent it. These requests can be balanced by special rewards to show them that their help is appreciated and not taken for granted.
  • Siblings may wonder what you expect from them. This may range from simple questions about helping their brother or sister at school to much larger concerns about when you are elderly or no longer alive.
  • There may be persons available to give your children some extra time and attention in your absence. This could be a family friend, relative, or neighbor. Whether they spend their time talking, doing special projects, or going on outings, the purpose is to provide your other children with an additional source of support. Recognizing your own physical and emotional limits is the first step in meeting your needs as well as those of all your children.
  • Family members may have changed expectations of one another. Expectations stand a better chance of being met if they are well defined.
  • It is very common for other children in the family to feel angry. Many times, brothers and sisters hold these feelings inside and feel guilty for even thinking them. They may be afraid to talk about their anger to their parents. They may focus instead on specifics such as how much time is spent at the hospital, how much money has been spent, how tired their parents are, or the cancellation of plans or activities. While siblings may feel angry at their brother or sister with TBI, the anger may really be about how the accident has disrupted their family and the uncertainty about the future.
  • Siblings may have awkward experiences with their friends. Other children will be naturally curious about what has happened and the effects of the injury. They may ask questions that siblings are not prepared to answer or do not wish to think about.
  • Unfortunately, many parents report that friends ultimately abandon a disabled person, particularly in cases of very serious injury when they are needed most. This may place additional pressures on siblings to fill the gap. As a result, they may feel torn between wanting to be with their own friends and spending time with their brother or sister. This loyalty can shift to resentment unless some balance is established.
  • Hopes and expectations for the person with TBI may be shifted to other children in the family. Parents may place subtle or direct pressures on siblings not only to succeed, but to excel in school and life.