How To Educate Siblings About Your Child’s Heart Condition

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A child’s curiosity knows no bounds. While a love of learning is generally a good thing for kids to have, it can be difficult to answer their seemingly endless questions—especially when they want to know about complex issues like congenital heart defects (CHD). 

But explaining a sibling’s heart condition not only increases their knowledge of how the human body works, it can also help them understand what their brother or sister is going through. It’s all about breaking down these complicated topics with age-appropriate examples.

Here are 3 tips for educating siblings about their brother or sister’s heart condition.

1. Start With The Heart Basics.

It might be a good idea to begin by asking them what they already know. For instance, they’re probably familiar with where the heart is located. And they might know it’s important for the heart to work properly. Maybe they also know that it has something to do with pumping blood in the body.

Once you have an idea of where they’re coming from, you can start by giving kids a broad overview of how the heart is supposed to work. This can make getting into the more complex details about heart defects a little easier. Having a simple visual handy can help.


Using the picture as a guide, you can point out the different parts of the heart, including:

  • Blood vessels (arteries and veins)
  • Chambers and walls
  • Valves

Then, you can explain that their heart is about the size of their fist, and that its job is to pump blood through the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It has 4 chambers—separated by walls—and flaps called valves that act like doors to let the blood flow in and out.

Blood flows through the body, giving it oxygen and nutrients, which are important because they help you stay healthy and strong.

2. Explain The Heart Condition With General Concepts.

Once siblings understand the basics of heart function, it’s time to get into the details about their brother or sister’s heart defect.

How much detail you go into is up to you and your child. Some kids might be fine with you explaining that an atrial septal defect means there’s a hole in the wall between the upper chambers of their sibling’s heart.

Other kiddos might want to know more about what having a CHD means for their sibling. For instance, they might ask why their sister’s pulmonary atresia—caused by a faulty valve separating the lower right chamber and the pulmonary artery—can cause problems for her.

For these more inquisitive kids, you might want to explain that this valve problem disrupts the path that blood is supposed to pass through. So, it’s harder for important oxygen and nutrients to reach the rest of her body.

3. Answer Questions And Clear Up Misconceptions.

Throughout the discussion and again at the end, let your child know that he can ask any questions. This helps him follow what you’re saying. It also allows you to clear up any misconceptions he might have.

For example, some kiddos might think of heart defects in really basic terms: “My little brother is sick. And being sick is just like having a cold.”

So, they might worry that they can “catch” a CHD from their siblings. Explaining that their brother was born with this condition and that it is not contagious can ease that fear.

Knowledge really is a powerful tool to fight fear. And educating your heart kiddo’s siblings about heart defects can help them pass that understanding onto others.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Barb Roessner

Hi, I'm Barb, and I'm a Physician Assistant and coordinator of the Heart Failure and Transplant Program at Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. I work with patients and families at every step of the journey, from diagnosing their child's heart condition to my favorite part—calling them to say "We have a heart."

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