For a child it is difficult enough to deal with the death of a pet, but when a child has to deal with a death of a parent or sibling it can be devastating. Death comes to us all; it’s just a matter of time. The death of a parent hurts, but what can hurt a young child worse is when they have lost a sibling. Once a child has experienced this kind of loss they begin to think of their own mortality.
We never know what other families go through, unless by some chance that we hear or read about it. We hear stories all the time on the news about fires claiming the lives of the people inside.
Just imagine: You have three children between the ages of 6 months to 6 years old. A fire breaks out in the middle of the night. The smoke alarm wakes you. Smoke fills the house. You are disoriented. Your children are asleep in their beds. You do your best to rescue them, but there wasn’t enough time. You saved your two oldest, but your infant didn’t make it.
Not only do you have to deal with the death of your child, but you have to help your children deal with the loss also. Depending on the maturity and level of understand will depend on how you talk about the loss of their sibling. Very little children may believe their brother or sister will come back. They may not understand the concept of death.
How do we help young children understand death?
We must be careful how we talk to little children about death. They take what we say literally. If we say “your little sister is gone,” your surviving children may wonder where she is, and when will she be home again. We should never tell a child that their sibling is sleeping. Again, little children take us literally. Small children will be waiting for their sister or brother to wake up and come home.
Parents that have lost a child have to grieve their loss, and at the same time they have to help their remaining children grieve their loss also. Children need reassurance; they may have fears that they will also die. Most little children have not experienced a death in the family before; it can be a very frightening and confusing time for them.
We parents that have suffered the loss of a child will suffer great sorrow and loss; however, we have had a lifetime to understand that death happens. No matter how much we are hurting, we need to keep ourselves open to our children.
Often with the death of a sibling parents decide to get their children into counseling. Counseling can be very helpful. Professionals may be able to allow your children to express how they feel about their loss. They may be able to express their fears and trepidations about their own mortality in a way that they could not relate to you.
As a parent you might be afraid to bring up the sibling’s death; but it is better to talk about it, rather than try to pretend it didn’t happen. Talking about your child’s death will help you and your children process what has happened. Above in this article I gave an example of a traumatic death. It was by fire. In the case of a traumatic death, such as this you and your children will need to process both the loss and the traumatic event itself. You’ve heard people that are avoiding a subject are ignoring the white elephant in the room? It is not beneficial to you or your children to ignore or pretend the event didn’t happen.
Some tips to help children process their grief.
When speaking to your children about the death of their sibling be sure to use age appropriate language. Your child still may not comprehend for some time to come. Be sure not to say their sibling is sleeping. This will only instill fear of going to sleep, or they will be afraid of you or others going to sleep.
Acknowledge the event'”sit down as a family and share your feelings. Let your children know that their brother or sister will not be in their everyday lives anymore.
Encourage your children to express their hurt over the death of their sibling. They should be able to say they are sad or mad; this helps them process the event.
Let your children know you are there for them any time they need to talk or ask questions. It may take time for your small children to comprehend their loss. Denial may set in, and your children may believe their sibling is coming back. It may take several talks to help them face the reality of their loss.
Help your children learn that life goes on. They must know that they must not stop living. They will need to adjust to the loss of their sibling and move on with life.