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Advice for siblings

When your brother or sister is ill or has a disability, life can be hard and you can feel lots of different emotions. Here's some advice to help you cope.

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If you are feeling sad, upset or angry it is often best to talk to your parents about it so you can work out a way of dealing with it together.

But sometimes you might not want to talk to your parents about it. You might be worried you'll upset them or make the problem worse.

Try not to bottle up your feelings if this happens – talk things over with a close friend. It is good to talk things over with someone who understands what you're going through.

When you don't know what's going on

Parents often think they're 'protecting' their child by not telling them things that could upset them. This can hurt because it leaves you feeling left out.

You might even start imagining what could be happening – which is nearly always worse than what's really happening.

If you feel like this, talk it over with your parents. Ask them to explain what is happening.

Tell them you'd rather know the truth as you're imagining all sorts of things. Sometimes telling them what you're imagining can help, if only to make them want to put the facts straight.

If you'd prefer, you could ask to speak to one of the doctors or nurses. If they try to fob you off, ask another doctor or nurse.

When other people don't understand

Bullies will always pick on something that makes you different. For some children it could be being clever or wearing glasses, but for others it is because their brother or sister is ill or has a disability.

Remember, bullies are usually covering up for something they're embarrassed about. They might even be bullied themselves. But, whatever the reason, bullying someone is not OK.

If you're being bullied for whatever reason, tell someone about it. This could be your parents, your teacher or another adult you trust. No one should have to put up with being bullied.

Some people don't know how to behave around people who are ill or have disabilities. They often feel embarrassed and might cover it up by calling your brother or sister nasty names or taking the Mickey out of the way they look or behave. Remember that bad behaviour is often down to ignorance.

If someone's using a nasty name or taking the Mickey, talk to them if you feel you can. Explain that your brother or sister is ill or has a disability but that they are still a special person.

Sometimes you might feel embarrassed by your brother or sister – that's OK! It's not usually your brother or sister you're embarrassed about, it's other people's reactions. They might stare, or make rude comments or even laugh.

If this happens to you, try not to feel embarrassed, even though that can be hard.

If you feel you can, talk to the person staring, making comments or laughing or ask your mum or dad to if they're there. If you don't want to talk to them, just walk away – they'll soon get bored.

When you seem to be invisible

You might feel like your parents only ever seem to focus on your brother or sister who's ill or has a disability. This doesn't mean you don't count or that they don't love you – although it can feel like it sometimes!

Your parents probably focus on your brother or sister because they need more help or attention to do things that you can manage for yourself.

If you feel like your parents are forgetting you exist, talk to them about it. Wait for a time when it's quiet and you're not going to be disturbed – you're more likely to get their attention.

Explain calmly that you'd like to spend some time with them on your own. Try not to get angry or blame your brother or sister, this is more likely to stop them listening.

Different rules

Your brother or sister may seem to be able to get away with doing things you'd be told off for. This is really difficult to deal with and you're bound to feel jealous.

It can be really difficult for your parents to be as strict with your brother or sister as they are with you. If you get told off for something that seems unfair, tell your parents. They probably won't appreciate it at the time, but they'll think a lot about it later.

If your parents focus a lot on your brother or sister, it's understandable that you sometimes feel jealous and they probably don't realise they're doing it.

If you're feeling jealous, try not to focus your jealousy on your brother or sister. Sit down with your parents and talk it through with them.

Other people's reactions

Sometimes it's not your parents that are the problem. Some people might feel sorry for your brother or sister and think that by making a fuss of them they'll make things better. This can make you feel seriously left out.

Ask your parents to explain to the person that they want all their children treated equally. Just because your brother or sister is ill or has a disability, doesn't mean they should be spoilt.

Your parents could suggest that if the person buys a present for your brother or sister, they should buy one for all of you or they shouldn't buy one at all.

When you never get any time to yourself

As you get older, it's natural to want more time to yourself. This is particularly true when you're a teenager. You might not want to sit watching TV with your family all evening, maybe you'd prefer talking to your friends online.

It can be difficult to get some time to yourself, especially if you're sharing a room with your brother or sister.

Needing space

If you've got homework to do, ask if you can borrow the dining room for an hour so you can work without interruptions.

If you want to talk to your friends on the phone in private or curl up with a book, ask if you can stay in your room until your brother or sister comes to bed, or use another room that's empty.

If there's no room at home, maybe you could do your homework in your local library or round a friend's house.

You might find that even if you do find a quiet corner to relax on your own, your brother or sister keeps interrupting you. If this keeps happening, you could end up feeling really annoyed.

Talk to your brother or sister and your parents and explain that, while you enjoy your brother or sister's company, you need some time to yourself.

Ask if your parents can keep your brother or sister out of the way at these times, or even ask if you can have a lock or a sign put on your door.

When you feel scared or everything gets too much

There are going to be times when you can't cope anymore and just want to scream and shout or cry for an hour; that's normal, everyone feels like that at times.

The future can be uncertain for all of us, but particularly if your brother or sister is ill or has a disability. You might be worried about your brother or sister going in to hospital. You might be worried about what will happen in the future.

If you do feel yourself getting angry, go somewhere to cool off. You might say something you don't mean in the heat of the moment.

When you've cooled off a bit, talk calmly and quietly to someone about how you feel. This could be your parents, or someone who's not directly involved. There are some organisations at the end of this information who you can contact.

Talk to someone about how you feel. If you're worried about your brother or sister going in to hospital, ask if you can talk it over with the doctor or one of the nurses. When you understand what's happening, sometimes the fear goes away.

Independence

Sometimes people who have a brother or sister who is ill or has a disability feel they have to 'protect' them all the time. They probably started by standing up for them at school and this has carried on so that they're scared to leave them when they go on holiday or go to college.

When you've had to fight for someone for all their life, it can be hard to take a step back and let them be independent.

The future

If you're worried about your brother or sister's future, ask your parents if you can all discuss it together. It can really help to air your feelings; you'll probably find out that you're not the only one feeling like you do.

You're probably not the only one who your brother or sister depends on – your parents probably feel the same way as you.

Talk it over with them and see if you can come up with a solution. You could keep in touch by telephone or email, or you could agree to come home for the weekend every so often.

You have to help everyone realise that, as you get older, you have a life of your own to lead and there are people who can help you too!

Need advice in hospital?

Great Ormond Street Hospital has a Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) that provides free, independent and confidential advice and support to help patients, families and carers.