Tips for Preparing Siblings for a Child’s Surgery


Siblings of children having surgery may not understand why their brother or sister is going to the hospital. They may feel anxious about what will happen to their brother or sister. They also worry about being separated from you.

Changes in Siblings Before a Surgery

In the days around a brother or sister’s surgery, you may notice your other children:

  • Changing their eating habits
  • Acting out and playing aggressively or becoming withdrawn
  • Clinging to you more
  • Regressing to previous habits, such as bedwetting or thumb-sucking
  • Saying they feel “sick”

These are all normal responses for children who feel stressed, confused or threatened. If a member of the family has had surgery before, you may be familiar with the process. If this is new territory, it can be even more stressful.

How to Help Siblings Cope with Surgery

There are several ways you can help your other children through this anxious time. The most important thing is to acknowledge and validate them. Reassure them that it is OK to cry or be scared.

Here are some more tips from our team:

  • Include siblings in conversations. When it is appropriate (and depending on their age), bring siblings into the conversation to help them feel part of it. Encourage them to ask questions.
  • Set expectations for visits. If they will visit their sibling in the hospital, prepare them for it. For example, you might say, “Your sister will not be able to jump around with you because she does not feel very well, but you could ask if she wants to do a puzzle together.”
  • Help them stay connected. If they are unable to visit their sibling, schedule a few minutes for them to talk on the phone or via video messaging. Encourage them to draw pictures or make a card for their sibling. They may also enjoy sending along a favorite toy or book for their sibling.
  • Be honest, but speak simply. Do not give them details they do not need to know.
  • Try to keep their routine intact. Even if you are unable to be with your other children, make sure the caregiver follows the same routine with naps, meals and bedtime.
  • Spend time just with them. Schedule special alone time with them to remind them they are important to you.
  • Communicate with other caregivers. Keep teachers, babysitters and daycare providers informed of what is going on in the family. They can help support you and be extra eyes, noting any behavioral changes in your children.

What to Read Next

Learn about what to do the day before your child’s surgery.