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Supporting children and young people bereaved of a sibling

Bereaved of a sibling

The death of someone a child loves is always painful, but grieving is a normal process. However, the grief journey can be more difficult if a sibling dies.

The death of a sibling is a very painful experience for any young person as:

    • It brings home to the child that young people die too;
    • They may become an ‘only child’;
    • Younger siblings may have a difficult time when they reach the age at which their sibling died;
    • Older siblings can feel guilty for not ‘looking out’ for their younger sibling;
    • They feel lonely;
    • Their parents are grieving;
    • They can lose their identity, and become known as the ’brother or sister of the person who died’;
    • They become anxious that someone else in their family will die;
    • They can become confused and frightened because their family has changed;
    • Their parents may only recall the positive characteristics of the dead sibling, leading to a lack of self-confidence in the surviving child and a pressure to be like the dead sibling;
    • They may feel guilty that they are still alive;
    • The family may find it difficult to talk about their loss;
    • The death of a twin or triplet can leave the child/children feeling that they have lost part of themselves.

Ways to support a child when a sibling dies

Observing a child’s grief is not easy and adults often try to protect the child by not giving them the full facts. Children will also try to protect the adult by hiding their feelings and appearing to be over their grief long before they are. Adults can help children with their grief by:

Being honest with them;

Answering their questions;

Involving them in the rituals;

Keeping the memory of the dead person ‘alive’ for them;

Not hiding their feelings - children need to know that feeling sad is normal when someone has died;

Finding ways to help them to express their feelings;

Acknowledging their anxieties;

Keeping open lines of communication between home and school.

Books you may find helpful

For recommendations, please take a look at our booklist.