What About Me? Ways to Support Siblings of Children Who’ve Had a Stroke

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Stroke Notes

Siblings hugging Living with a brother or sister who’s had a stroke can be stressful and confusing — but it can also be very rewarding! After all, siblings are often a child’s first significant relationship other than their parents. Sibling relationships are unique in that they often change over time — from friend to protector, from follower to competitor, from teacher to role model.

Siblings of a child with serious medical needs can experience a wide range of emotions and responses to the situation — from love and pride, to guilt and anger. The impact of these emotions will depend largely on the sibling’s ability to cope with change and stress.

So, how can you as a caregiver help support the sibling relationship, as well as help the sibling cope with the challenges? While all children will respond in their own unique way, there are some typical age-related challenges and reactions a child may have in response to their sibling having a stroke. Whether your family is new to dealing with the effects of a stroke, or have been managing it for years, here are some helpful ways you can support your other children as they deal with these new emotions and situations.

Infant (birth to 1 year old)

Typical challenges and reactions:

  • Lack of routine
  • Difficulty developing trust with multiple caregivers

Ways you can help:

  • Encourage consistent caregivers for your child
  • Maintain an infant-directed schedule for feedings, sleep and play

Toddler (1 to 3 years old)

Typical challenges and reactions:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Limited language makes it difficult to ask questions

Ways you can help:

  • Offer simple explanations using words they are familiar with
  • Encourage activities that promote independence and allow your child to make choices

Preschool (3 to 5 years old)

Typical challenges and reactions:

  • Loss of control of what’s going on around them
  • May make up answers to things they don’t understand
  • Believe they caused their sibling’s stroke or that it is contagious

Ways you can help:

  • Identify specific times to spend with them at home
  • Reassure them it is not their fault their sibling had a stroke and provide age-appropriate education
  • Ask what they already know and address misconceptions in simple, concrete terms

School age (6 to 12 years old)

Typical challenges and reactions:

  • Worry about the sibling
  • Jealous of the special attention the sibling is receiving
  • Embarrassed about having a different family than their peers

Ways you can help:

  • Find ways to be involved in the sibling’s special activities
  • Give the child a role in planning tasks and events
  • Acknowledge and support their feelings

Adolescence (13 to 18 years old)

Typical challenges and reactions:

  • Fear of losing their own identity
  • Often called upon for caregiver demands, including helping the child who had a stroke or assisting other siblings or family members
  • Worried about stress to family

Ways you can help:

  • Providing the sibling with information and education will decrease their worries
  • Involve them in family decision making while not placing too many caregiving responsibilities on their shoulders
  • Encourage peer activities and respect their independence

Creating “me” time for siblings

Remember, each sibling will have his or her own unique needs. By giving each child dedicated time to talk through their questions and concerns, they will know that their feelings are normal and recognized. Having this special individualized attention will also reassure the sibling that they too are a priority — despite the “hustle and bustle” going on around them.

By setting the tone for a positive sibling relationship, you will be creating a unique and lifelong sibling bond like no other!

Contributed by: Kristin Hansen, Child Life Specialist