When a child dies, caregivers may wonder what to say to their other children. It can feel impossible for caregivers to figure out how to communicate to their surviving children while also mourning the death of another child. Yet, it is important that children feel safe and that they are given a space to process their experience. Whether the death of a child is sudden or anticipated, siblings’ needs can easily (and understandably) go unnoticed and unmet. Siblings may not understand the medical language used to speak with their parents, and sometimes miss out on valuable visiting time. Therefore, it is critical that healthcare professionals are prepared to address questions and concerns related to the siblings of a child that has died.
Children's reactions to the death of a sibling
When a child dies within a family, their brothers or sisters may feel left out as so many emotions are understandably focused on the child who has died. Siblings can have conflicting emotions of deep sadness, mixed in with relief that adults might now have some time and energy for them. They can then feel bad for having these thoughts, and guilt is common. When a sibling dies, surviving children may wonder why they are alive, and their brother or sister is dead. They may fear it is their turn to die next.
Dr. Paola Ayora is board certified in General Pediatrics, Adult Psychiatry and Child Psychiatry. In this blog, she describes her experience working with grieving patients, families, and colleagues, and how this influenced her decision to pursue additional training in Psychiatry and Child Psychiatry.