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Providing Support for Siblings of Children with Medical Complexities

When a child has a complex medical condition, parents are not the only family members whose lives are affected by the major impacts that these diagnoses can often have. When there are other children in the family, these siblings often feel the stress and strain of time consuming cares, frequent doctor’s appointments, and family mobility constraints as well – but may not understand why their brother or sister is receiving this type (or amount) of attention.

What can a parent do to build a trusting environment and provide a support system for each of their children, helping siblings feel recognized and heard? We would love to hear any methods you’ve used, or resources you’ve found. While each family has their own unique needs and circumstances, we’ve put together a few ideas for how to support the siblings of a medically complex child in case you’ve found yourself asking these same questions.

Join support networks and organizations

In Minnesota and across the nation, there are a number of organizations that exist solely to support families of children with medically complex children – and there are a few in the metro area that we know firsthand thanks to their incredible mission and work.

HopeKids offers events that provide sibling supportHopeKids is a national organization with a Minnesota chapter and has a mission to “provide ongoing events, activities and a powerful, unique support community for families who have a child with cancer or some other life-­threatening medical condition.” Families who are involved with HopeKids have the opportunity to enjoy a Timberwolves game, concert or amusement park while surrounded by other families in similar circumstances – an opportunity for siblings to meet other kids who have a medically complex brother or sister while also going to an exciting event they might not otherwise be able to attend.

Faith’s Lodge supports parents and families facing the death or medically complex condition of a child at their peaceful lodge in Danbury, WI with regular opportunities for families to come refresh and restore their minds. Siblings are welcome to join parents and medically complex children, giving them the opportunity to reflect, have conversation, and meet other families.

Set aside personal time for each of your children

It can be hard to find time for one-on-one activities with children amidst medical cares and other duties of everyday life, but the impact can make it well worth the prioritization. Undivided attention makes for meaningful memories and the opportunity to have undivided conversation or play time with your child. One-on-ones don’t need to be elaborate either – maybe it’s a weekly walk, a designated ‘helper’ for a Target date, or a trip to the library.

Get them involved in their own activities

give siblings the opportunity to support one anotherDoes your child love to play soccer, paint, or put on plays? Get them involved in an activity that is all their own. It gives them the opportunity to have something that  is just for them, helps build confidence and social skills, and gives you a game or event to focus just on what they’re up to.

If your medically complex child is able to attend the events their siblings participate in, this is a great way for them to show support and be part of a family outing. If they aren’t able to attend, you could consider taking video that you can show the child back at home so they can see their sibling in action.

Find a Sibling Support Program

providing support for siblings of children with medical complexitiesGroup programs for children who have a medically complex sibling are a great opportunity for kids to get together with other brothers and sisters in similar circumstances. Often lead by  a social worker, these sessions open up conversation in an organic and natural way. Pediatric Home Service offers regular sibling support programs in Roseville, MN for children ages 6-11, and a session will be starting soon! To stay up to date on upcoming program sessions, fill out the form on our sibling support page and be sure to like our Facebook page.

Originally published: March 3, 2017