How To Help a Child Grieve the Death of a Sibling

iStock_0littlegirl in snow MediumOne of the questions I addressed to the listeners on Thrive Global Network dealt with the difficult loss of a sibling.




“What is the best way to help children deal with the loss of a sibling? (Our children were young when we lost 2 babies, but even as teenagers, their grief is very real and very present)”


Tips for parents with a loss of a sibling:


Loss of a child is one of the most difficult things families I work with deal with. Especially when you yourself are grieving and are caring for another child who is also grieving the loss.

In general there are 5 stages of grief. I like to look at it as more of a cycle because I think that people experience grief and loss in some way as they grow and change. For example holidays and anniversaries/birthdays you may experience sadness, grief of some sort even if you have come to accept the death of a person.

Also as a child grows they gain new insights to their lives and may experience the grief emotions differently as they grow. As children become teenagers they now may have a better understanding of the situation and have developed more insight. It is important to find some way to remember the person during these times and to allow yourself to feel the emotions of grief.

  • Accept where the child/teen is in the grief process
  • Encourage, but don’t force expression of emotions
  • Grief is not a “problem to be fixed”, but something that must be experienced and felt. I see it as part of the healing process after a death or a loss
  • Talk to your kids about how they may experience these feelings in their life again and it’s ok
  • Continue to set appropriate limits with your children, “you feel____ but it is not ok to show it by throwing the toy or hitting your brother”
  • Keep regular routines
  • Reinforce positive memories, show pictures, create a memory book or photo album
  • Ok to be honest about your own feelings (I feel sad) without being too overwhelming
  • Adolescents can really benefit from participating in memorial events (not forced but given the opportunity)
  • Sometimes the questions children have or the explanations can be uncomfortable for adults, and many adults try to protect children by avoiding clear terms, but it is important to understand that these questions are part of a child’s normal development and how they are trying to understand what has happened.

A story that I use with young children who’ve lost a sibling is called “Always My Brother” by Jean Reagan, which addresses sibling loss. Stories are great because they break down sometimes difficult issues in to a language children can understand

There are Five Stages of Grief : As presented by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who “On Death and Dying”

Shock/Denial: disbelief that the death has occurred, or feeling numb to the death, others may mistakenly believe the person is fine because they are not crying or acting out or are showing little emotion.

Anger: either anger at the person who died, themselves (may blame self) or circumstances, child may act out or feel out of control

Bargaining: “If I am a good kid God can bring the person back” may have feelings of guilt

Depression: sadness, withdraw, realization the person is gone, feeling lonely, wanting life the way it was before the person died

Acceptance: Understands the reality that the person is gone and life is changed, misses the person but feels hope that things are going to be all right

Children experience losses differently depending on their age and development, and while the death may have occurred while they were small, when a person gets older you develop more insight into your life and issues and events or reminders or life events may bring up some feelings about the deaths.

Have you experienced the loss of a sibling yourself? Or have a question or comment about todays post? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.




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