The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Living With a Sick Sibling

It may be hard for parents to remember but when a child is ill, it has a great impact on his or her siblings who are stressed out because the family dynamics have been distorted. They may feel confused, act out and generally undergo various behavioural changes that may go unnoticed by the parent.

Experts have identified 10 issues that the child with a sick sibling contends with. Some of them are conscious while others are unconscious.

Nonetheless, they are all important for the parent to be aware of so that he or she will know what the healthy children are dealing with and what they need. These children:-

· Worry that their sister or brother will die: just as the parent may harbour unspoken fears for their child, the siblings experience the same thing. This fear is real and when it gets to be voiced, it should not be brushed off or the child made to feel guilty for feeling that way. Rather reassure the child without giving false hope.

· Fear that they or other loved ones will catch the sibling's disease: No-one likes to suffer and watching a sibling suffer makes the reality that it could happen to them or another member of the family that much real. This fear needs to be addressed especially if the illness is genetic.

· Feel guilty because they're healthy and can enjoy activities that the sibling cannot: It may be termed as false guilt but it is guilt nonetheless. The parent needs to let the child know that regardless, life goes on and that there is nothing wrong with them enjoying life though their sibling is ailing.

· Be angry because parents are devoting most of their time and energy to the sick sibling: This is most unconscious because they know that they shouldn't feel this way but they do. The child who feels this way may begin to act out and their anger must not be condemned.

· Feel neglected and worried that that no one in the family cares: While this child is not angry, he or she feels disregarded and unimportant. This is the child who will suddenly become withdrawn, more quiet than usual and his or her school grades will begin to deteriorate.

· Resent the sibling who never has to do chores: It is a conflicting thing to deal with and this child needs to be made to understand that their sibling is not absconding, neither is he or she on holiday. Blasting the child for feeling this way will only make the resentment stick.

· Resent that the family has less money to spend now because the sibling is sick: This is especially for the younger children who haven't fully developed capacity to think of anyone else but themselves. Thankfully, this is something they outgrow but in the meantime, a parent can try to be creative in spending so that they still have special family treats once in a while.

· Be nostalgic for the past (wishing things could be like they were before the illness): Though this is a normal reaction, it needs to be addressed as soon as it is manifested because the child can go into a denial of his or her current reality. They need to know that though things are the way they are, it's not the end of the world; there are new memories to be made.

· Feel residual guilt for being "mean" to the sibling in the past: Unresolved issues will always arise especially when death appears to be a looming reality. Encourage the sibling to make amends; apologize if need be and then start afresh by being good and doing good to his or her sibling in the here and now.

· Experience generalised worry or anxiety about an uncertain future: We can relate to this fear of the unknown since all human beings crave a sense of stability. The only way to address this is to listen empathically without making the child feel like they are overreacting.

CAROLE KIAMAH'S 'DIARY OF A MUM' COLUMN RESUMES NEXT WEEK

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