The flow of information
It can be very difficult to judge just how much to explain to a sibling, and when. Parents may worry that their child is too young to understand: ‘Should we tell them everything?’
Some siblings say their parents act as ‘gatekeepers’ of information, holding back some things but not others. This might lead to them feeling uninvolved, or ‘out of the loop’. However, there are some things – particularly the physical circumstances of acquired brain injury – that could be distressing for young children.
It can be useful to take your cues from your child. If they are asking about certain things, it is clear they want to know more. Try to give them as much information as will satisfy them at that time.
Children talk about not wanting to be spoken down to. It’s also simpler to tell the truth. If you don’t know something, or if the outcome of a particular situation is unclear, then you can say so.
Talking things over
Try to encourage siblings to talk about their feelings. Books or websites about acquired brain injury can be a useful starting point (for younger children Tim Tron is a great book, reviewed by siblings here).
If these conversations are too painful for parents, a sibling could talk with a friend, relative, teacher or other professional – anyone they feel comfortable with.
Counselling should be available through your child’s school or GP if your child feels they would like to speak to someone outside the family.
Setting an example can be helpful. Talking about your own feelings may help a sibling feel more inclined to share theirs. It may help them to understand that it’s ok to be sad together – and that their feelings are perfectly normal and understandable.
Just as parents can become anxious about talking about ABI with friends, relatives and colleagues, so too can siblings. It isn’t an easy thing to explain. But spending time with a sibling working out what
they might say to friends or their teacher can be helpful. This may also help siblings feel less anxious.
Time to be themselves
Parents are often advised to find time for themselves, including being with friends and for leisure activities. The same is true for siblings, who may feel left out or even neglected. They may feel less ‘carefree’ than before their brother or sister’s injury, and they need to know their parents care about them too.
Try to find things that siblings can do with friends, and look for activities you can do with them that will make them your focus. Making regular time to talk about their interests, their friends and school can be very useful.
Short breaks (sometimes called respite care) can be very helpful to parents in these circumstances.
Short breaks gave us a bit of breathing space as a family. During the school holidays, it meant we knew Michael was being looked after one afternoon a week, and so I’d take Abigail out to do things. I think it made a big difference to her.
Some children may put on a brave face when things are difficult for the family. They may not want to get in the way, or may come to feel that their difficulties are trivial by comparison. It’s important that they still have time to be children.
If we had that time again, we wouldn’t have let Charlie’s brother help out as much as he did. I think the extra responsibility was a little bit too much for his age, looking back.
The Sibs website has some excellent information for children affected by issues discussed here.
Read part 1 of our sibling focus, which considers siblings at the different stages of recovery.