This month marks National Siblings Day, and we know that being the older brother or sister of a baby on the neonatal unit can be an overwhelming, confusing, and challenging experience. At Tiny Lives we try our best to make the experience of spending time on Ward 35 as easy as possible for older siblings, but it can be tricky for family and friends to know the best way to support siblings as they navigate the journey.

Here are our top tips…

1.         Clear communication

Open, honest communication is key to helping siblings understand what is happening so they can process it in their way. Encourage brothers and sisters to ask questions and express their feelings and let them know that it is ok to feel scared or sad while reassuring them that their sibling is receiving the best care possible. Tiny Lives Sibling Packs are suitable for children aged 3+ and include a helpful book that might answer some of their questions and ways to help them express how they’re feeling.

2.         Create a routine

Where possible, sticking to a routine can help maintain a sense of normality during this uncertain time and help siblings feel more secure and grounded. Make time for activities that they enjoy and moments just for them.

3.         Offer reassurance

Older siblings might be worrying about the babies health, or the health of mam and dad when they have to spend extended time in hospital. Offer plenty of reassurance that they are loved and cared for, that their feelings are valid and let them know it is ok to ask for help and support when they need it.

4.         Involve them in the process

Depending on their age, involving brothers and sisters in what is happening in the neonatal unit can make the situation less scary and overwhelming. Why not ask them to make a card or a drawing for their new sibling, pick out a special toy to gift or an outfit, or tell them a story?

5.         Share new information

Siblings sometimes have questions about new babies’ condition or treatment and providing age-appropriate information can help them understand what is happening and why their brother or sister can’t come home just yet. Use simple language and be honest about what they can expect so they don’t get a shock when they arrive on the ward.

7.         Encourage emotions

Siblings need to express their emotions during this challenging time. Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling, whether it’s through art, writing, or talking to a trusted adult. Validate their emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, or confused – in fact, it is completely normal!

8.         Celebrate milestones together

Whether it is joining the kilo club, graduating from the neonatal ward, or hitting a health milestone like coming off a ventilator, include siblings in celebrating achievements big and small. Our Parent Packs include milestone cards and acknowledging these moments as a family can bring some much-needed smiles during a tough journey.

Sign up for Tiny Lives Sibling Memory Making Group.

At Tiny Lives we offer informal sibling support groups for siblings who have spent time on the unit, or whose brothers or sisters have sadly died. The groups involve craft activities and are a chance to meet other children who are having or have had a similar experience.

Children of all ages are welcome at our sibling support groups, no matter how long ago their sibling(s) were on the unit. These sessions run three times a year and provide a safe space for siblings to share their experiences, connect with others in similar situations, and receive additional support. You can find out more about our Sibling Memory Making Groups and book your space here