For some siblings, they may be involved in helping their parents care for their brother or sister, and though this can be helpful and rewarding, this responsibility can also be stressful at times. Others may think they are being neglected as their parents’ time and attention is taken up caring for their sibling. In the event that their sibling dies, they will experience all sorts of complex thoughts and feelings and many of the siblings may go through this on their own. They may experience their grief being put to one side, or think they should not express their grief.
Richard House Children’s Hospice provides care and support for the whole family. In 2006 the hospice, which is based in East London, established its Sibling Group to support children whose brothers and sisters have been diagnosed with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness.
Siblings between the ages of six and nineteen can join the group, and the group meet monthly. They take part in a range of activities designed to help them meet others who are in similar situations, and build a network of support of people within their age group. They are encouraged to express and share their thoughts and feelings, and learn new skills, all in a relaxing and safe environment.
The group takes part in all kinds of activities, from drama days to adventure weekends. For example, last weekend they enjoyed a sports day at Richard House, playing games including an obstacle race, a tug of war, volleyball and a sack race. Afterwards, they had a session focussing on things they were good at in their lives as well as areas which they wanted to improve on and how they could do so.
Rachel Flower, Activities Co-ordinator at Richard House who ran the session said: “The sports day was a lot of fun. The siblings all got very into the day and were putting their all into winning the different races and events, making sure they worked very well in their individual teams.”
Shahina Haque, Family Support Manager at Richard House, said: “It is very important to recognise and acknowledge siblings with a brother or sister with a life-limiting health condition and those who have experienced a bereavement. Our Sibling Group is an integral part of the family support service we provide at Richard House. Events like our sports day provide the space and the opportunity for those siblings to have a healthy balance and understanding of good competition and also to have the permission to be a child and have fun. As with all the activities we hold it, is a great opportunity for them to develop their friendships and have some time where they are placing themselves first.”
The group has proved very popular. The feedback from members of the group after each session continues to be positive. The family support team asks the siblings for feedback on whether the groups are helpful, how they have been helping them and what they would like to do can do differently. Here are few recent comments from the siblings who attend the group: ‘It helps me to feel better about myself and doesn’t make me feel like the odd one out’ and ‘It has helped me believe in myself.’
For more information on the sibling groups or any other family support services please contact the family support team at Richard House.
* This article was originally published on the International ehospice children’s edition