Support for Siblings of Children Living with Illness

Posted by Jennifer Fieten, Child Life Specialist

Support for Siblings of Children Living with Illness

“I just want her to be comfortable.”
“How much longer will she be with us?”
“God is happy that my brother is with Him now. He is giving my brother a hug and is glad my brother is there to make Him laugh.”

Working in pediatic palliative and hospice care, I've seen that it can be easy for siblings to “get lost” amongst all that is happening when they have a brother or sister with life-threatening illness. 

Given the understandably consuming emotions and frequently busy environment, siblings are often left to understand and process what has been experienced or witnessed on their own.

Sympathetic adults often feel at a loss regarding how to disclose a sibling’s illness, or anticipated death, or how to prepare a sibling for such a death — a death that they themselves are still trying to grasp and reconcile.

Hospitals and hospices with pediatric programs, such as JourneyCare, provide specially trained professionals called Child Life Specialists to provide this support for pediatric palliative and hospice patients and their families. Child Life Specialists, like me, are educated and trained in the developmental impact of illness, injury and death. We have an understanding of the impact of trauma, grief and bereavement on children and families and provide research-based, developmentally-appropriate interventions for children and families.

Child Life Specialists provide support for siblings by:

· Easing a child’s fear and anxiety with therapeutic and recreational play

· Encouraging understanding by providing non-medical preparation and support for children

· Advocating for family-centered care and support during stressful situations

· Educating siblings of patients with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. These opportunities may include supportive play, education about the grieving process, death and loss, as well as funeral education and support.

· Offering family-centered events and activities (picnics, sporting events, outdoor activities)

· Providing education and resources to parents who are struggling with the questions that are being asked by children in their homes through books, websites and articles

· By providing opportunities for memory-making and family-enriching activities towards the end of life to allow bonding between the patient and their family

The goals of this support are to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain, and to enhance and support adaptive coping; to make every moment count for the child and the family.


March is Child Life Month. Join us in celebrating all that our Child Life Specialists do to support our pediatric patients and families! For more information on child life, please visit


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