10 things to remember when coping with and explaining a child’s death to a sibling
Children facing the trauma of the death of a sibling suffer in numerous ways. It is hard to know how to approach the topic of the death of a child with a child. A Solo Mom needs to care for both herself and also her living child.
It is critical to seek bereavement services as necessary. This list is written as a guide to the grieving Solo Mom, as well as to her support network.
1. Validate the child’s grief. Adults do not always recognize or validate grief in children. Moreover, the children themselves have difficulty in conceptualizing and articulating their loss and may feel alone and confused. Help them reach an understanding in terms they can grasp.
2. Be flexible in your approach. Among the many challenges in discussing loss with children is the central fact that there is no one correct way to approach the topic. Even within one family, different ages and individual personalities may require different approaches.
3. Trust yourself. Pediatrician Dr. David Fenner says, “No one knows your child better than you do and in many ways, no one knows you better than your child . . . [W]hile it is natural to try to set your emotions aside and show your children only your brave face, they will sense and share your sadness . . . don’t be afraid to let them in.”
4. Take it slowly. Note that it is not necessary to provide a great amount of detail. Dr. Fenner says, “Children will often ‘set aside’ bad news on issues they don’t understand only to revisit it again and again to digest in small bites what they don’t understand.”
5. Don’t discount the value in being present. In addition, each party may benefit simply from parent/child connection and presence.
6. Practice self-care. If a parent needs some respite, this is an excellent way to make use of offers of assistance from friends and family eager to help.
7. Reassure. Remember that children sometimes need reassurance regarding their own health and safety, as well as that of their mother.
8. Keep tabs on your child. Seek pediatric assistance if a child’s anxiety presents frequently or becomes excessive.
9. Create boundaries. A premium should be placed on creating a safe space for a Solo Mom to mourn. Those around her should develop supportive networks to meet as many of her needs as possible. Consider opportunities for children to grieve such as specialized bereavement camps for kids, for example Comfort Zone Camps. Long-term commitments to services like Meal Train are also helpful.
10. Create minimalist rules about parenting. Making two or three go-to rules about parenting. The definition of these things—no matter what they are—prevents bad habits from becoming entrenched. For example, decide that bed sharing may be OK in the short-term, but that eating in front of the television is not. The rules will be subjective but should be enforced.
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Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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