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Caring support for the “well” child

Having a “special needs” child can be physically, emotionally and financially difficult for parents. But what about the other children in the family?

Caring for the well child

Life understandably revolves around the needs of the sick child. Healthy brothers and sisters tag along in waiting rooms and hospitals, or spend more time with relatives or caregivers. They may be asked to take on more responsibilities to help out. Favorite activities may have to be given up if the family can no longer make practices or rehearsals.

“Its long been known that a chronic illness impacts every member of the family. Just how much it impacts the siblings is becoming increasingly clear,” says CHOC Childrens pediatric psychologist Marni Nagel. “A healthy sibling may be scared that the sick child may die. At the same time there may be guilt for resenting all the attention the sick child is receiving. Younger children, who tend to have ‘magical thinking, may feel somehow responsible for causing the illness.”

CHOC Pediatric Psychology and CHOC Child Life Services routinely work with siblings as part of providing “family centered” care. Age-appropriate techniques are used to help them understand a sick siblings diagnosis and treatment, express feelings and develop effective coping skills.

“Siblings want to be helpful. They will put aside their own needs to accommodate the sick siblings needs,” Nagel says. “But they may not realize until later that they are feeling jealous or angry, so watch for it.”

How To Help Healthy Children Cope

Talk About It —Ask how things have changed. How has the other childs illness impacted their lives? How do they feel about it? A healthy child may sound selfish at times, but it helps to be able to express feelings. Just listen and avoid judgment. If talking about it is difficult, have your children express feelings through art or play.

Schedule special time together —So your healthy children know they are just as important to you.
Assign special responsibilities to every member of the family. Not every responsibility has to be related to chores. Let the healthy siblings plan the next family outing, for example.

Provided by Childrens Hospital of Orange County

About Childrens Hospital of Orange County

CHOC Children’s is exclusively committed to the health and well-being of children through clinical expertise, advocacy, outreach and research that brings advanced treatment to pediatric patients. Affiliated with the University of California, Irvine, CHOCs regional healthcare network includes two state-of-the-art hospitals in Orange and Mission Viejo, several primary and specialty care clinics, a pediatric residency program, and four centers of excellence – The CHOC Childrens Heart, Cancer, Neuroscience, and Orthopaedic Institutes.

CHOC is one of only eight childrens hospitals in the nation named a “2009 Leapfrog Top Hospital.” CHOC earned the Silver Level CAPE Award from the California Council of Excellence, the only childrens hospital in California to ever earn this distinction, and was awarded Magnet designation, the highest honor bestowed to hospitals for nursing excellence. Recognized for extraordinary commitment to high-quality critical care standards, CHOC is the first childrens hospital in the United States to earn the Beacon Award for Critical Care Excellence. For more information about CHOC Childrens, visit

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