Talking with siblings about the tough stuff

By Mary Ryder, Family Support Practitioner at Very Special Kids

We recently held another two sibling days at Very Special Kids and on these days, alongside all the fun and games we often witness the children talking about their experiences of living with their sick brother or sister. We try to create a safe place for this to happen. However most of their conversations will be at home, maybe at school, or other places where they spend time with trusted adults.

Children are like sponges soaking up and absorbing what happens in the world around them and then actively seeking out information. They tune in to the atmosphere around them, and if they are unsure about what is happening, may make up a story that they think fits with what they know. Unfortunately they can get it wrong. This is why talking with siblings is so important and responding to questions with honesty and truth cements their trust in the adults around them.

When the going gets tough questions can be challenging and confronting: why is my sister so sick? Why can’t she talk like me? Is she going to die?

Of course every child is unique and parents know their child best. There are no right answers, but there are some approaches that can help you navigate this tricky terrain. Adults often worry that children will not cope if they know too much. However talking to children in simple and straightforward language in a way that fits with their age and developmental stage will help allay anxiety and fears.

Listen carefully to your child and follow their lead. Children will usually only ask what they want to know – so information can be given bit by bit. Let your child know they can continue to ask you questions. The answers may be tough but there is evidence that children cope better and are less anxious when they are responded to honestly and with realistic reassurance. By talking with your children you enable them to:

  • Trust that you will give them the information that they need
  • Help them begin to process their emotions and feelings
  • Feel included and not isolated
  • Feel safe to ask any questions they have

Courage and a willingness to talk about difficult matters teach our children that hard conversations can happen safely and that they can talk with you about anything.

To find out more about Very Special Kids Sibling Support Program click here.