When we lose child, we have so much to process, especially in that acute phase of loss. But when there are siblings still here that also have no idea what to do, what to think, we often have to put our grief aside and focus on helping our little people through their grief as well as we can.
People’s way to help others get through this phase is to try to give them things that will help them during this intense period. Whether you’re a parent, a relative or a close friend we all want to help, we all want to lessen the pain however we can and when you think of children the question is - What to give a child who lost a sibling? I think here it’s important to say there’s really not right or wrong thing to give and the most precious gift you can offer anyone in this situation is your time, time to listen, time to help with the mundane things in life, time to reminisce about those who have passed.
There are also other resources and gift you can give to a child who has lost a sibling. When thinking about what to give a child who lost a sibling, I think it may be helpful to think about being a kid. Children are visual creatures, and the younger they are the more they rely on images to learn and understand things. Children have no need or want for beautiful flowers, heartfelt cards, or gift baskets. A really simple and impactful thing you might want to consider is a book that offers a symbol for them to understand what to do with their emotions.
Other items that might provide some comfort are soft toys, you can even get memorial teddys that may offer something to snuggle when the sad moments hit. If the child is older and can write, a journal might be a helpful way to extract their emotions in a constructive way and it could then become something they ca look back on and see how far they’ve come. You may also want to consider items that may help them
Depending on how they died, often people enjoy donating or volunteering for a cause that helps them help others facing similar situations. The reality is, that it’s hard to imagine someone you love has died, even as adults this can be incomprehensible, however it is something in life that is sadly unavoidable and for children it’s even more difficult to understand. The finality of death is a very challenging concept to comprehend, I know we really struggle explaining to our girls why Charlotte can’t come back and let’s be honest, I struggle with this reality too (every day in fact).
Interestingly, Psychologists have observed that younger children can benefit with pretend play with their sibling whilst older children may act out in risk taking activities and may need the help of trained professionals1 and sibling loss can have long-term and large effects on surviving siblings1. Something I found surprising when I was researching for this article is that the risk of death following the loss of a sibling is higher than that after losing a parent2. Trauma manifest in different people in different ways and this is incredibly true for children. Losing a sibling is a traumatic event, there’s no two ways about it, it’s usually unexpected and out of anyone’s control. Losing a sibling at birth is a real challenging reality for children because how can they understand how a baby could die – I ask myself this question (too) often. Although more common in older children, it is possible for a suddenly bereaved person to be defined as suffering from a grief disorder and PTSD2.
I recently read a lovely article that went a long way to answer Here’s What to give a child who lost a sibling.
- Something they want,
- Something they need,
- Something to keep, or
- Something to read.
So, maybe we don’t over think it too much. Prioritise giving them your time, your attention, your love, and lots of reassuring cuddles. In a way we need to ‘speak their love language’. Distraction may be a good way in the moment to help them get through an acute episode of grief but it’s not a long-term strategy as, like us, they need to process and understand the loss in a way they can continue to live their lives. In order to help them as best we can, we may need tools for us to get them through the grief process constructively.
If you have any other suggestions that have helped your family and/or children after the death of a sibling, let us know in the comments as I’d love to hear them.
Thanks for reading, I’m wishing you a gentle journey on this road we never chose.