How to Care for Siblings of a Teen in a Treatment Program

If your teen is struggling with a mental health condition, an addiction, or any other serious issue that requires them to enter a treatment program, it can be difficult to know how to balance your time and energy between your teenager and your other children. In addition, you probably still have to work, maintain your home, and meet other obligations. It’s natural for you to feel stress about not only your teenager, but also your kids who aren’t in the treatment program. Read on for some tips on parenting the siblings of a teen whose away at a treatment program for a mental health condition or addiction.

How Your Other Kids Might Feel


Depending on the ages of your other children, they might or might not understand why your teen has gone into treatment for a mental health condition or addiction. This can make them feel confused and worried. Depending on the circumstances, they might be concerned that their brother or sister might die or might have to stay at the treatment facility forever. They might also be afraid that they can catch or otherwise acquire the same type of illness your teen is being treated for. Talk to your children in age-appropriate terms about what the problem is and when they can expect their sibling to come home. Assure them that mental health conditions are not contagious.


Your other children might also feel angry at you for spending so much time and energy on their sibling. This can be true of older and younger kids. If your older teenager or young adult is going through a transition (like high school graduation, college, an upcoming wedding, or moving out of the home), they might feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick because your energy is focused on their sibling in treatment. Young children might regress to more childish behaviors. These are all normal and natural feelings.

Try Not to Feel Guilty


While it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling guilty, try to avoid this feeling. First, it won’t help you be a better parent. You are doing your best, and right now it’s normal that a lot of your time and energy is being spent on the child who has the greatest needs right now. If you look back over the past several weeks or months and can see that you have been neglecting the emotional needs of your other children, there’s no point in dwelling on it. Instead, identify ways that you can begin to shift your focus.


Keep to a Routine With Your Other Children


Developing and sticking to a routine with your children who are at home can help all of you feel better. Your kids will know what to expect. You can build in time to spend one-on-one time with each of your kids so you feel less like you’re neglecting their needs. This will also help your kids to reign in their jealousy when you do need to spend extra time on their sibling who is in the treatment program.


A routine should encompass the tasks of daily living (getting up, getting dressed, eating breakfast, going off to school, helping with homework, getting them ready for bed) as well as weekly times that you spend doing fun things. For example, you might make it a ritual that every Saturday morning, before you go to the treatment center to visit your teenager, you will take the other children out for breakfast or that you’ll make chocolate chip pancakes. Maybe every Tuesday evening, you will take the kids to visit their sibling. Making a flexible schedule will give everyone things to look forward to and think about when you are busy with your teenager.


Be Patient


If your kids are acting out or regressing, it’s important that you try to be patient. Yes, it’s annoying and frustrating when your five-year-old begins talking like a baby or when your twelve-year-old starts slamming doors. Try to look past the behavior and focus on the feelings. Talk to your younger children about things that are important to them. Ask your pre-teen what he or she is feeling when it comes to their big brother or sister needing to be in a treatment program. Assure kids of all ages that you love them and want to spend time with them. Do not verbally blame your teenager for taking up all of your time; instead, stress that families work together to help members who need extra care, and that’s what you’re all doing right now.


Ask for Help


If you are having trouble meeting the daily needs of your other children, there is absolutely no shame in asking for help. See if a neighbor can take your child to school in the morning if that’s when you have to take your teen to therapy. You can also accept offers from people who want to deliver meals or take the other children to do something fun for the day. It’s good for kids to see that a community can pitch in and help families who are struggling. Don’t feel guilt for accepting help; instead, look forward to paying the kindness forward later, once you are more settled and someone else in your community needs a helping hand. Also, don’t hesitate to get your other children counseling if warranted.


Foster the Relationship Between Your Teen and Siblings


Remember that your teen’s treatment or illness does not only affect him or her and you, his parent. Your other children are affected, too. They are likely worried about their brother or sister. They are also probably missing their relationship with their sibling. Maybe your teen used to watch his or her younger siblings while you ran errands or maybe all of your kids enjoyed watching movies or playing games together. A sibling who is close in age to the teen needing treatment might be feeling his or her absence particularly strongly.


Find out whether your younger kids can visit their sibling whose going through the treatment program. If they can’t (or if you think they would be disturbed by it), you might be able to arrange Skype calls or phone calls. Siblings can write cards or draw pictures for their brother or sister, too.


It can be difficult on an entire family when one child is struggling, but with you by their side, your other children will be able to accept what’s happening and continue to thrive. Don’t be afraid to seek help if you aren’t sure how to make the process easier on everyone or if you are having trouble coping with parenting any of your children.