Claire Warrender, from our Manchester team answers a few questions on what it’s like being a Sibling Support Worker and why supporting siblings with a brother or sister with a serious illness is so important.
Why did Rainbow trust choose to set up these sibling groups?
We recognise that it is helpful for siblings to meet other children in a similar position and wanted to develop groups with a focus on sharing experiences and feelings.
What kind of impact / outcome has the group had on the children who attend?
Parents have commented that their child has grown in confidence. We have found that having the opportunity to meet other siblings in a similar position has had a powerful impact and has enabled siblings who attend to realise that they have something in common and are not on their own.
What are the common themes that come out of the group work?
Common themes can be feeling confused or uncertain about what is happening with their sibling, we have lots of discussion around who siblings can talk to when they need to and reinforce this throughout, encouraging siblings to identify their sources of support.
What kinds of things do you do to help the children connect with their feelings?
This varies across the sessions, we have made masks with younger children and developed some role plays/stories around different feelings. Lots of artwork. We also created a ‘feelings wall’ in an early session that was made up of laminated bricks which were velcroed onto a board. This prompted a group discussion on different feelings and the feelings experienced at different times. The feelings wall was then brought to every session and siblings could choose a brick and talk about how they were feeling that day and also change the bricks if they wanted to show their feelings had changed. We also found this served as a good visual prompt when a sibling was talking or drawing about their feelings but could not think of the right word to explain it.
How do you address these feelings when they do come out?
We aim to create a supportive group that is structured so siblings know what to expect each time they attend. We keep the same staff each session which ensures continuity for the children and enables them to develop trust. An important part of the group is validating sibling’s feelings and reassuring them that it is ok for them to feel this way. We find that this is often a big relief for siblings who can feel guilt around feeling a certain way. At the group they might hear other siblings agree that they sometimes feel the same way which can be extremely beneficial for them to listen to. We then create open discussion around ways in which we can manage these feelings in a positive way. There is no such thing as a negative feeling! Most importantly we listen and allow siblings space to talk. If a sibling needs extra attention or would like to talk one-to-one to a worker we would also facilitate this.