How to Discuss a Sibling Loss With Your Children
When your children have lost their sibling, it can be a difficult conversation to tackle. Learn how to discuss sibling loss with your children.
Are you grieving the loss of a child or young adult? Do you know someone who has lost their son or daughter?
When young brothers and sisters are bereaved, it can be hard to find the words you need to help them cope. Surprisingly, sibling loss is not as uncommon as you’d imagine. 5-8% of children may experience sibling death, according to two US data sets.
You are not alone, and we encourage you to join a local support group if you think that would be helpful. Sometimes it can be hard to deal with the powerful emotions that surface after a loss. While crying and not crying are both normal, always encourage bereaved siblings to mourn their loss in whatever way is appropriate for them.
If you want to know what to say or want to guide a friend or family member through a difficult time, then please read on.
Use Simple Honesty
Learning how to talk about death is not something you ever thought you’d have to do, but with children, it’s very important to strike the right balance. Because they are still developing mentally, certain phrases that adults often repeat to one another after a loss can confuse a child.
Young kids are especially prone to taking statements literally, so many grief experts suggest that it’s best to avoid vague comments such as “The angels took him while he slept.” This is because a young child might develop an irrational belief around such statements and even fear going to sleep themselves.
Saying “Your sister has gone to a better place” may also confuse rather than comfort. A young sibling may worry about where their sister is and whether they will unexpectedly be taken away from the family too.
Simple truth delivered with a compassionate tone is likely to help them process their grief rather than hinder: “Your brother’s body couldn’t fight off the sickness anymore.”
Take Their Lead
Talking to kids about death is one of the hardest tasks a parent can face, but it gets a little easier when you take a child-led approach. Once they are aware of the tragic news, there is no need to force them to confront their emotions.
The spectrum of grief is so wide that almost any emotional response is considered normal, even the appearance of no emotion at all.
Children process grief differently than adults, often for shorter bursts rather than prolonged episodes. It’s common for a bereaved sibling to be crying one moment and playing with toys another.
There is no set time limit for grief to expire, and emotions can be turbulent for weeks, months, or years. The whole family is experiencing the loss together, so whatever any sibling needs, be there for them. If they want to talk, let them, but if they want to feel the security of a hug, don’t feel that you have to always talk about the deceased sibling.
Involve the Children
Many parents who lose a child believe that they must shield the rest of their children from all the funeral planning. While some children may not want to go to a sibling’s funeral, most find the public grief of a funeral helpful in easing their pain. Some children who didn’t attend the funeral of a sibling later express regret, so discuss it openly, honestly, and in simple terms.
Talking about sibling loss is so painful that you might try and organize memorial services quietly, without asking for the input of your children. Focusing their attention on a creative memorial for their brother or sister could help them process their grief. Support their desire to be a part of the planning in any way they need, and let them share their treasured memories.
Outside of the funeral, if there’s any family ritual they want to begin to celebrate their bereaved sibling, try and accommodate it.
Don’t Be Shocked
Kids’ losing a sibling exhibit a range of behaviors, and some can be distressing for a parent to witness. Teenagers have a hard time regulating their emotions in particular. Since they are in the process of transitioning to adulthood, they are already experiencing a range of new and uncomfortable feelings.
If you witness or notice unhealthy outlets for their grief, such as acts of self-harm, help them find healthy alternatives, and seek professional guidance. Anger can also be expressed cathartically through art, whether the medium is music, poetry, or drawing.
If they need to express their anger in words, hear them and don’t assume it’s directed at you, even if it starts that way. Support one another, but don’t be afraid of seeking assistance if things seem to be spiraling out of control.
Express Your Emotions
It’s one thing to know how to talk about their loss, but what about your grief? Grieving as a family is helpful for everyone, to heal and remember the loved one together. Some of a parent’s complex emotions may be too much for a child to process, so recognize when a therapist might be needed.
Family therapy may also be a healing experience, as long as everyone is comfortable with going, and no one is forced into it. Support groups are especially valuable, since meeting people who have endured what you are going through makes their words particularly meaningful. Support groups also open the door to the possibility of long-lasting friendships that are mutually beneficial.
The loss should never be downplayed, and every member of the family should have permission to grieve in their way.
Dealing with Sibling Loss
Discussing sibling loss is hard, but we hope you can now broach this difficult subject more confidently. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too, and reach out to family members and professionals when you need assistance.
If you’re grieving a loss or planning for the future in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metropolitan Area, we can help you. We are a value leader in cremation services and merchandise.
Contact us today to make arrangements online.