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Talking to Your Child’s Siblings

Siblings will have their own emotions and questions about a brother’s or sister’s brain tumor diagnosis. They need to know they're not alone and their fears and feelings are normal.

Preparing to Talk to Your Child’s Siblings

When a child is told their sister or brother has a brain tumor, they may feel sad, angry, anxious, frustrated, lonely, guilty, or jealous of the extra attention given to their sibling. You may want to talk to them separately so they feel comfortable sharing their feelings and questions openly. You can also ask a member of your child’s healthcare team to join you in the room when you talk to siblings.

When You Talk to Your Child’s Siblings

  • Be honest and open about their sibling’s illness and your own emotions. A child’s fears can be made worse if they don’t know what is happening, and they can pick up on your fears without you realizing it.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions about their sibling’s diagnosis and treatment.
  • Help siblings understand that they didn’t cause their brother’s or sister’s tumor.
  • Make it clear they cannot catch a brain tumor like a cold.
  • Ask siblings to talk about their emotions, and let them know their feelings are okay.
  • Ask open-ended questions, such as:
    • What do you understand about what I have said?
    • How do you feel about your brother or sister being sick?
    • What questions do you have for me about your brother’s or sister’s brain tumor?
  • Be prepared for changes in behavior, such as tiredness, difficulty concentrating, or “acting out” to draw attention to themselves. If you notice large changes or are worried about how your child is coping, ask your healthcare team for help.
  • Talk to siblings about planned longer hospital stays and medical appointments. This will help them know that they will be taken care of during the times you are gone.
  • Stay in touch with siblings while you are in the hospital by phone, text or video. Allow siblings to visit as much as possible.
  • When possible, spend one-on-one time with siblings.

Talking to Children by Age

It’s important to talk to children using words and ideas they can understand. Here are some ideas about how to talk to children at different ages:

  • Children under the age of five respond to simple and clear answers
  • Children between the ages of five and 10 can understand terms like “cancer” and “tumor”
  • Children ages 11 and older can be told basic medical information

Resources to Help You Talk to Your Children

It’s okay to feel uncertain about talking to your children about cancer. If you want help, your child’s healthcare team can provide advice based on their experience.

Many parents and caregivers also find that age-appropriate videos can help. The Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Imaginary Friend Society is a series of short, animated videos that talk about cancer-related topics in a kid-friendly way. In the following video, circus-bear siblings Sir Wibling and Robearta explain what cancer can be like from different sibling perspectives.


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