Mason’s story: How to cope when your sibling is the patient

By Mason Stoltz

My brothers and I were not expecting to be without a mom and dad for 99 days. But that’s sort of what it felt like when my sister was born extremely prematurely. Suddenly, our world was turned upside down and we had to take on a lot more responsibility than we were used to. When my parents weren’t at work or asleep, they were at Children’s. So, as you can imagine, it dramatically changed things for the three of us kids who were at home.

Mason holds his sister, Katie, for the first time.

Here are some of the ways we learned to cope with our “new normal”:

  • My older brother met with a counselor at school. This gave him someone to talk to at school who really knew what was going on in our family. This person was able to offer suggestions on how to deal with stress and still stay on top of things at school.
  • We read books as a family that helped us all to understand what was going on in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where my sister was and a little bit more about the challenges she was facing.
  • We visited Children’s often and took advantage of the awesome services that are designed for siblings and family members. For example, did you know there is a Sibling Play Area at the Minneapolis location loaded with fun toys and activities for siblings to play with? It is open to siblings of a Children’s hospital or clinic patient, ages 2 years and up.  Siblings can be checked in for up to 1 ½ hours, twice a day. The staff there was super nice and had really great activities and crafts for us to do.
  • We would make things for my sister.  All patients at Children’s have their own private room and it is meant to be their “home away from home.” We had a lot of fun drawing pictures and making get well posters that we could hang in my sister’s room. I hope it cheered her up and let her know we loved her. I think the nurses and doctors were able to get a better insight into our family by personalizing her space a bit.
  • During my sister’s hospitalization, we had a plastic box at our house that we pretended was an isolette (like the one my sister was in at the NICU). My 4-year-old brother liked to pretend he was a doctor and took care of his teddy-bear patient, the way the doctors and nurses were taking care of my sister. If you want more ideas about how to creatively and simply teach kids about the complex issues and procedures that happen at a hospital, talk to a Child Life Specialist. They are a wealth of information and some of the most valuable people at the hospital, in my opinion!
  • I liked having my own picture album of my sister that I could show to my teachers and friends. It almost became a morning ritual in my classroom for me to share the latest developments with my sister. It felt nice to be able to educate my friends about her situation and I felt their support as a result.

I hope these suggestions might come in handy for you if you have a sibling in the hospital. Just remember, even though your sibling might look different in the hospital, they are really the same person.The more you can do to still interact with them the way you would if they were at home, the more comfortable you both will feel. Many times you can still play a game, watch a favorite show, share jokes over the phone, make paper airplanes, do a craft, celebrate a birthday, and make a memory even while they are going through something difficult. You can be a part of their prescription back to health.

Mason, 13, is a member of our Youth Advisory Council

2 thoughts on “Mason’s story: How to cope when your sibling is the patient

  1. Lee Russeth

    Mason,

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas and feelings about how to cope when one has a sibling in the hospital.

    My best wishes to you and your family.

    Sincerely,

    Lee Russeth, MS, CCLS
    Child life specialist
    Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital
    Hackensack University Medical Center
    Hackensack, NJ

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