Skip to main content

Make discussions feel safe

These recommendations will help you create a group where siblings feel safe to speak openly about their lives.

Set clear groundrules

This helps the siblings to feel safe to take part in the group.  Here are recommended groundrules.

  • Safety at the venue – show where the fire exits are, explain the process of being dropped off and picked up, show where to go if siblings need to have time away from the group, show who to go to if siblings have had an accident, show how to look after the equipment
  • Keep your behaviour safe – ‘Everyone’s feelings are important and sometimes feelings affect behaviour. If you are feeling angry or upset talk to an adult in the group rather than hurting yourself or other siblings’
  • Listen – ‘It is important that everyone has a chance to say what they think and feel. Please wait your turn to speak. Turn phones off during the group’.
  • Confidentiality – ‘The group is a chance to say what you are thinking and feeling honestly. It may be that you would benefit from some extra support from parents and professionals but this would be talked about with you first’ .
  • Keeping children safe –  ‘If the group leaders are concerned that someone is being hurt or is not safe the group leaders will need to pass this onto to a parent or a worker. But you will usually be told if this is going to happen’.
  • Tell us what you think – ‘If there is anything that is on your mind that you are not happy with in the the group, please tell us and we can look to change things. And if there is anything in the group that you really like doing, please tell us and we can try to do more of that.’

Communication with parents

Parents may ask you to tell them details of what their siblings say in the sessions. Be clear that you will not be passing on specific issues unless it is with the consent of the sibling, or concerns a safeguarding issue. Send parents an outline of the types of activities that you are planning to run and some tips for how they can support their child.

Group discussion techniques

Use these techniques to encourage siblings to share their feelings and views

Use open questions

Children often give the answer they think you want to hear so ask open questions rather than leading or closed ones. For example when a sibling tells you that their sister has taken something from their room ask: “How did that make you feel?” rather than: “Did that make you angry?”. Helping them to find the right word is fine, as long as you don’t block their real meaning in the process – rephrasing afterwards to ask if that’s what they meant may clarify things.

Acknowledge feelings

  • Acknowledging feelings in a group is vital. It give siblings permission to have negative feelings about their brother or sister which are a natural part of all sibling relationships.  For example, letting a sibling know that it is normal to feel annoyed if their disabled brother or sister takes their things.
  • It helps siblings to communicate their feelings through words rather than behaviour.  For example, a sibling can say they are jealous rather than hit another child to get attention.
  • It helps siblings to feel less isolated with their problems. For example, a sibling may be worried about their brother or sister if they need hospital treatment and it is likely that other siblings in the group are worried about this too.

Non-verbal activities

It helps siblings if they can also show their thoughts and feelings without having to say them. So for example you could read a statement such as: ‘It can feel lonely if your disabled brother or sister can’t play with you’ and ask siblings to raise their hands if they agree. You may ask siblings to run to a side of room depending on their opinion. So they could run to the door if they like playing ball with their brother or sister, or run to the window if they like going to the park together. Other effective techniques that encourage siblings to show how they are feeling include picking an emoticon, choosing and play an instrument or stepping on a feelings word

Encourage turn-taking

It is likely that siblings will be keen to have their voices heard and it is important that the group allows everyone to have a turn. If you feel that siblings are regularly talking over each other try this: Pass a bean bag or microphone to the person who is talking, the rest of the group must listen to that person. Use a stop watch or egg timer to ensure siblings feel that they have a fair amount of time to talk. When their time is up the next sibling starts to talk.

Group variety

Some siblings may know each other very well, or may have another sibling in the group. Mix up the group members when taking part in small group discussions or activities. Ask the siblings to line up and then go along the line give each child a number one, two, or three. Ask all those with the same number to get together in a group.

Examine consequences

Siblings will often speak about things that they are finding difficult in their life. As a group, discuss the actions that they can take and the consequences that are attached to those. So a sibling may say that he gets hurt by his sister. The group can then shout out ideas for the sibling such as: ‘Tell a teacher’ ‘Tell a parent’ ‘Hit your sister back’. The group then looks at the consequences for those actions, good and not so good. So for example, ‘It is not OK to hit people and it might make your sister more angry and aggressive’.

Answering questions

If a sibling asks a question, check you have understood the question by re phrasing it. You cannot be an expert in everything. Do not be afraid to say that you do not know, but will find out for them. Siblings will appreciate you giving them the correct information the following week or via the post, rather than answering their question in part or incorrectly.

Responding to difficult issues 

Here are some common issues that are raised within sibling groups and some ideas for how to respond. 

Sibling anger

Siblings cannot get on with their brothers and sisters all of the time and a group is a good way of allowing siblings to discuss feelings of anger. However as a group leader you may be tempted to encourage them to express more positive feelings. If a sibling says ‘I hate my brother’, don’t say  ‘You love your brother, you said so last week’. Ask instead ‘I wonder if anything has happened to make you say this?’. Or say ‘You sound very angry today. Can you tell me some more about this?’

Sibling getting upset

It is important to allow tears and sadness to be expressed. Siblings won’t fall apart, feeling sad is normal. If a sibling starts to cry get them a tissue and ask them if they want to stay in the group and talk about how they are feeling, or would they rather have a quiet chat on their own with a group leader.

Sibling not joining in

Some siblings like to sit and listen to conversations. They can learn a lot from hearing other siblings describing what is happening for them. If you feel that a sibling is very quiet, ask them at a break or after the group if they have anything they would like to say about the discussions. Don’t make it sound as though it is a problem.

Some siblings may take themselves away from the group. They may leave the room or start to do another activity. Encourage them to come back to the group and remind them when the break is or when the session is due to end. Tell them how much you need their contributions to the group. Chat with them at the break or after the group to find out if there was anything about the group that made them want to leave it.

Sibling being hurt

Some siblings live with brothers and sisters who have conditions that cause aggressive behaviour. This behaviour can be targeted at siblings, resulting in siblings being harmed, both physically and emotionally. It is important that you do not explain it away as something that siblings have to learn to live with and ignore. Away from the group speak to the sibling about what is happening.  Tell them that you must speak to their parent about this because it is not OK that they are being hurt. You can support their parent to get some professional advice regarding keeping the sibling safe.

Responding to emotive statements

Here are some statements that siblings may make in a group and some suggestions for what to say in response. The initial response is to encourage the sibling to talk openly. Depending on the response you may have to refer the sibling to another support agency or deal with a safeguarding issue.

I hate my family/brother or sister

What sort of situations make you feel that way?

I'm no good at anything

We all feel that way sometimes
Has someone been telling you that?
What would you like to be good at?

My brother is going to die soon

How much do you know about his condition?

I run away

Where do you go?
How do you keep safe?
What makes you do that?

I just hit him

You will need to acknowledge this and also set limits on behaviour
You feel angry/jealous, is that right?
People get hurt, is there another way you could react?

Mum never has time for me

What would you like to do if you had time with her?
Have you spoken to your mum about this?

I want to die

Has something happened to make you say this?
Have you felt like this before?
Have you thought about what you might do?

What if you are concerned about a sibling?

Safeguarding siblings

When you are setting up your group you must have a safeguarding policy and procedure that details what to do if you are concerned about about the safety of a child or young person.

Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCB) provide statutory mechanisms for agreeing how organisations co-operate to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. You should be familiar with the policies and procedures drawn up by your LSCB and make sure that your safeguarding policy fits with these. You will find our local LSCB details on your local authority website. Any staff or volunteers working with children in a sibling group must have a DBS check and also have training in recognising signs of harm to children and how to report harm. You need to inform parents and siblings of your safeguarding policy and how this relates to group discussions. The groundrules for the group should explain when confidentiality may have to be broken.

Identifying the need for additional support

If you are concerned that a sibling needs more help than the group can provide discuss this with your co-workers and with the sibling’s parent. Find out how to get more help for a sibling