New educational program helps the siblings of children with cancer

January 11, 2012, BioMed Central

Having a brother or sister with newly diagnosed cancer can be a distressing and difficult time for a child. While most children eventually cope, there can be a period of adjustment when their school work and social functioning suffer. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health shows that a teaching program, designed to improve the child's knowledge about their sibling's disease and to give them coping skills, was able to improve their adjustment and psychological well being in this early time period after diagnosis.

Brothers and sisters of have a lot to cope with. They are often worried about the illness and have to watch their sibling's emotional and physical pain. This can lead to confusing and conflicting emotions such as fear, loneliness, sadness, anger, jealousy and guilt. In some children this can eventually lead to the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. A team of researchers from University Children's Hospital Zurich, led by Dr Alice Prchal tested a new educational program designed to give children the skills to cope in the first few months after diagnosis.

The educational program included a three pronged approach over two sessions. Firstly the child was given medical information about how the body works, cancer, and , using pictures and story books. This section of the intervention also focused on emphasizing that cancer was not contagious and that no one was to blame for their sibling's disease. The second section used and identified specific topics that concerned each child. The final part of the therapy presented parents with a booklet containing information about the concerns of siblings of cancer patients, and provided recommendations on how to support their child.

Families were enrolled into this over a four year period. They were randomly assigned to either standard support provided by the psycho-oncologist on the ward, or the new educational program, within four to six weeks of the diagnosis of their sibling's cancer. Progress was measured before the program sessions and after four and seven months.

The results of the study were very promising. Dr Prchal explained, "Using a 'quality of life' scale both of the groups showed improved over time, however, despite the small size of our study, the group with the extra help had a better improvement in their psychological well-being."

She continued, "Although the group who tested the educational program were better able to cope in the first few months there seemed to be no differences in anxiety or the numbers of children who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. We hope to adjust the program to be able to help these children as well."

Explore further: Children experience differing changes one year after a sibling's death from cancer

More information: A two-session psychological intervention for siblings of pediatric cancer patients: a randomized controlled pilot trial, Alice Prchal, Anna Graf, Eva Bergstraesser and Markus A. Landolt, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health (in press)

Related Stories

Children experience differing changes one year after a sibling's death from cancer

November 16, 2011
The majority of children experience personal changes and changes in relationships one year after their sibling has died from cancer; however, positive and negative changes are not universal. These are the findings from the ...

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.