Siblings and Peers

Siblings and peers need to be part of the information loop concerning their brother, sister, or friend. The ideas that follow will help parents, relatives, friends, and teachers enable the siblings or peers to understand TBI and the injury itself and provide continuity as their brother, sister, or friend recovers and returns home.

At the time of injury and during rehabilitation:

  • Explain exactly what happened to the sibling/peer in language and ideas they can understand. “Your (brother, sister, friend) was in an accident. He/She was hurt and taken to the hospital so the doctors and nurses could help him/her.” Often, it is upsetting for siblings and peers to see their loved one in the hospital, but it may help to drive by the hospital so that they know exactly where their sibling or peer is. If they are going to visit the hospital, be sure to discuss what they are going to see before making the visit. Encourage their questions before, during, and after the visit. Children may be reluctant to bring up ques¬tions if they think it will upset their parents. Parents should explain what they are feeling and encourage as much discussion as possible.
  • During a visit, don’t force a family member to participate and be sure to watch carefully for signs that they may be getting overwhelmed. They may need to leave quickly and may need to be comforted by someone close to them. They may also feel embarrassed by their desire not to witness some of the sights and sounds of the hospital environment.
  • Explain words like “coma” and “traumatic brain injury.” Medical terms are frightening to children and often do not make any sense. Tell them that “coma” is when you are uncon¬scious because your brain has been hurt. Just like when you twist an ankle and it swells up and gets black and blue, your brain swells and bleeds and that can make you unconscious. Explain to them how people wake up from coma very slowly over days and weeks. In addition, tell them your brain helps you to do three things: think, move about, and feel (behave). When you have a brain injury, you may have problems with your thinking (memory, language, etc.), your ability to move around, and the way you act and feel. Our brain is the most important and most complicated organ in our body. When the brain is injured, it takes a long time to heal and, while some problems get better, some may stay with us forever. But there are ways to help people work around the difficulties.
  • Allow the sibling or peer the opportunity to communicate. Some children need to talk, some need to keep diaries, some need to ask hundreds of questions a day. The more opportunities we create to help children express their feelings, fears, and needs, the better they will understand and feel a part of what is going on. Trying to “protect” children by isolating them or not answering their questions only increases anxiety and misunderstanding. Children fear what they don’t know and are wonderfully resilient to the things that they can understand at their level. Schools can generally provide many kinds of support services to help the sibling or peer. However, some kids may need professional counseling to help them cope with the injury to their sibling or peer.

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