Children with a long term medical condition or disability can have frequent visits to hospital if they have complications from flu or flu-like illness. Seeing a sibling in hospital and feeling that parents are stressed can upset other children in the family as well as disrupting family life. Parents who had more than one child talked about the effect on their other children and what they did to support them.
Parents talked about the different ways their other children could be upset, despite their attempts to minimise the impact of illness. Anxiety, stress and feeling left out were common reactions. Jack’s older brother was quiet and withdrawn for a while after Jack was poorly in hospital with flu-like illness. Rebecca’s older son started bed wetting and having temper tantrums. Fiona says her three year old daughter finds hospital visits to see her younger sister with interstitial lung disease ‘hugely traumatic.’
Sometimes emergencies happen in the middle night. On one occasion, Rebecca’s son had an asthma attack in the middle of the night, seeing the ambulance arriving had a big impact on his brothers.
Parents might try to protect their other children but their worries and stress could filter through to siblings, even those who were very young.Children could feel left out or excluded when parents are focused on their ill sibling. Liam’s three year old brother has recently started to want his temperature to be taken too and also to be given medicine.
Siblings might miss their brother or sister when they are in hospital. Ella’s sister visits her when she is hospital. If she is too sick for visitors she just stays for an hour or two. As her Dad says, ‘just enough so that she knows that Ella’s okay, and what’s happening, and she’s not just feeling left out.’ Usually the mum stayed in hospital too which disrupted normal family life.
Evie’s older sister was taking exams when Evie was ill and in hospital. Her parents talked to the school and they gave her extra time.
Children were also affected in more positive ways by their sibling being ill. Anita has three older boys who she says ‘are absolutely brilliant with [Oliver]’ who is two and has Down’s Syndrome. Hazel says that Oscar’s brother shows greater empathy and understands that they need to be in hospital with Oscar and doesn’t complain. She says, ‘He also is an amazing person.’
Parents tried to reduce the effect of episodes of flu or flu-like illness on their other children. Janet and Phil tried to keep Liam’s brother to his regular routine at nursery whenever Liam goes to hospital. Liam’s mum said, ‘He needs a routine his normality is key to this as well.’
Rebecca knows that if her four year old son gets flu or flu-like illness he is going to be poorly and will need to go to hospital. She tries to prepare his older brother by reading a children’s book called ‘Topsy and Tim go to hospital’.
On Christmas Day, Michele felt torn between being with Jack who was ill in hospital and seeing her older son who was at home. She was glad the ward sister told her to go home for a few hours while Jack was sleeping to see him.
Often grandparents or other close family members helped to look after and provide support to siblings during illness episodes. Parents were aware that their other children might need reassurance and attention, even if they seemed to be coping reasonably well.
See also ‘Home and social life‘.