Supporting Heart Kids: 8 Ways Older Siblings Can Help

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Older siblings get used to being the only kid. But then a baby brother or sister comes along. Now, there’s not only another child, but she also has a heart condition. And parents are concerned about giving all of their children enough attention, even though they’re spending a lot of time away with their heart kiddo. 

A lot of times, there’s a big gap in age. With my patients, these older brothers and sisters do an amazing job of accommodating and looking out for their sibling who’s going through treatment.

In a previous blog post, one of our heart moms talked about how she was worried that her 4-year-old son would struggle to adjust to having a baby sister who needed a heart transplant. Like most parents, she didn’t want him to feel left out.

But that was the opposite of what happened. Instead, he ended up becoming so protective of his sister. We even had to ask his permission before we could treat her.


I’ve also seen older siblings who are really inquisitive. They want to know what’s going on. Others are worried.

For parents who want to make sure that their older kids don’t feel left out, one of the best ways to do that is to get them involved in your heart kiddo’s care.

And here are 8 ways that they can.

1. Helping With Oral Medications

Some heart kids are on more than a dozen medications. Siblings who are mature enough can help keep the medications organized and make sure their brother takes them on schedule. There’s no reason why big brother can’t say, “Here, it’s time for his medicine.”

2. Spelling Lessons

Speaking of giving medications, this could be a good way to get them involved and give them a spelling lesson. Say, “I need the one that starts with an A.” Then, have them spell out the names of the medicines as they’re being given.

3. Making The Hospital Feel Like Home

One of our kiddos whose brother is treated here at Children’s draws pictures for him and sends things to the hospital to make the room feel more like home.

If your older kiddo has a creative side, she can make a few fun drawings to hang on her sibling’s door at the hospital.

4. Answer Questions

Even if your older child doesn’t want to be hands-on, they might still have a lot of questions. Being honest with them is the best way for older siblings to stay involved and up to date with what’s going on.

5. Hang Out With The Nurses

The nurses here at Children’s do a great job making siblings feel like they’re super special. They paint each others’ nails, do each others’ hair. We had one older sister go straight to the nurses’ lounge when she came to visit her brother who was waiting for transplant. Nurses can make the hospital a fun, friendly place to be.

6. Carve Out Special Time

Your heart kiddo might take up nearly all of your time and attention. But it’s important to carve out special time for your older children, too. Even if it’s just going to a movie, or talking for 15 minutes about school. Giving them a bit of your undivided attention can really help.

7. Stop By The Playroom

At Children’s, we have a playroom with games, crafts, and toys. You may also run into some of our child life specialists in there as well. If your older child is visiting the hospital with his younger sibling, have them stop by the playroom for a fun break.

And child life specialists are also available throughout Children’s to help patients and their siblings understand and cope with the hospital experience.

8. Picking Out Clothes

If you’re packing a hospital bag or helping your heart kid get dressed at home, ask your older sibling to help with picking out his brother or sister’s clothes. That way, he gets to feel involved. And as an added bonus, it’s one less thing you have to do.

Also, as a heart parent, you probably could use some help. Asking your older kid to be responsible for diaper changes, feedings, and other day-to-day things shouldn’t be off limits.

Because the heart condition can be taxing or the whole family, it’s important that your older children become a part of your heart kiddo’s care team.

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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