Effects on brothers and sisters of a child with cancer

This information was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG).

The brothers and sisters of a child with cancer may have many or all of the same feelings and emotions that you have.

If you need to spend a lot of time in the hospital with your child, your other children may need to be cared for by family members or friends. They may have a lot of time away from you and find their daily routine keeps changing. As well as worrying about their brother or sister’s health, they may also feel resentful of all the attention they’re getting. This can make them feel very left out and angry. They may worry that they’re also going to get ill.

It can help to plan some time to let your other children be the centre of attention for a while, perhaps by going out for a meal or to see a film. Even 10 minutes at the end of a day can make a big difference. If your child with cancer is having some special attention - for example, having sweet treats or their favourite things to eat - you can do the same for other children in the family so they don’t feel left out.

The needs of brothers and sisters can sometimes be overlooked, particularly in the early months when you may spend most of your time caring for your ill child in hospital or at home. Many brothers and sisters keep their feelings bottled up inside to avoid worrying their parents. Often, the place where siblings may show how they feel is at school. They may:

  • withdraw and become very quiet
  • become disruptive in the classroom
  • cry easily
  • become frustrated and have outbursts of anger
  • fall behind in class work
  • get lower marks than usual
  • start missing school
  • become rebellious towards teachers
  • have arguments and fights with friends and other children in their class.

It will help to let your children’s head teacher(s) know that their brother or sister has been diagnosed with cancer. You can ask for the school’s help and support for your children. The teachers will understand that feelings may be expressed through behaviour at school, once they’re aware of the stresses facing the family.

If a sibling is obviously having difficulty dealing with the situation, talk about it with staff at the hospital such as the specialist nurses or the social worker. They can arrange for counselling, help and support for you and your other children. Some hospitals have support groups for siblings.

The CCLG has information for brothers and sisters of children with cancer, including a leaflet called How to help brothers and sisters.

Children's cancer information from CCLG

This information about children’s cancer was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG). It has been reviewed and edited by their publications committee, which includes medical experts from all fields of children’s cancer and care.

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