Siblings and Grief After Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Navigating grief with children whose sibling has died can be overwhelming.

However much you are able, try to keep lines of communication open as you grieve together. Children are perceptive and will be aware of your feelings—being open and honest will help your child(ren) communicate how they are feeling as well. We hope the following information and suggestions will help guide you in supporting your child(ren) through their grief.

REASSURE YOUR CHILDREN

That you love them

That you love the sibling they lost (and that is why you are so sad)

That they didn’t do anything wrong (and they’re not the reason why you are sad)


WHAT TO EXPECT AS CHILDREN GRIEVE

  • Children worry about mortality, both their own and that of those they love, when someone close to them dies.

  • Be prepared for regressive behaviors:

    • Difficulty sleeping, eating, or concentrating

    • Difficulty going to school or getting back to a routine

    • Clinging to one or both parents

    • Withdrawing

  • Siblings will grieve “what should have been.”

    • Younger children may find it helpful to draw a picture of something he/she would have liked to do with their brother/sister.

    • Older children may find it helpful to write about their brother/sister or write a letter to their sibling.

  • Siblings will reprocess the loss as they mature and grow.

    • Children need continued opportunities to talk about the loss as time passes.

    • Continue to validate your child(ren)’s feelings about the loss as they grow up and develop into adulthood; the loss will always be an important part of who they are and how they perceive the world around them.

    • Provide opportunities for your child(ren) to remember their sibling on birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.


HOW TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD’S PROCESS

  • Answer questions in an age appropriate manner.

    • Children learn by asking questions. When they ask questions about death, it’s because there is something they don’t understand. Let them know that all questions are ok to ask.

    • Younger children may not grasp that death is final and continue to ask about the whereabouts of their sibling—this is normal and not insensitive on their part.

    • Older children may think they caused their sibling’s death; remind them it was nobody’s fault.

    • Encourage children to ask questions and focus on answering the questions truthfully. Use concrete words like “died” and keep your answers in simple language.

  • Talk to people in your children’s lives.

    • Reach out to your child’s teacher or school counselor, explain what happened so that they will be able to help your child when he/she is in their care.

  • Allow children to grieve in their own way.

    • Give grieving children choices whenever possible. Having choices allows children to grieve death in a way that feels right for them.

    • Children may have a limited amount of tolerance for uncomfortable feelings and may want to be with their friends sooner than you’d expect—they’re coping the best they can and this does not mean that they aren’t sad or experiencing grief.

    • Allow your child(ren) to choose how and when to grieve (e.g., ask if they would like to hold their baby brother/sister who died)—do not force anything on them.

    • Provide your child(ren) with opportunities to share their feelings; children may not want to talk about the loss with their mom or dad for fear of making their parents sadder.

    • It may be helpful to find a grief counselor who works specifically with children.

    • Art and play therapy can be helpful in facilitating communication about their grief.

    • Pet therapy can be a soothing relief to your child(ren).


ADDITIONAL SUGGESTION

Participate in a remembrance walk. Being around other children who have lost a sibling can be a huge comfort to them and help them not feel so alone.

BOOKS ON GRIEF FOR SIBLINGS

  • Your local hospital and/or hospital may have grief resources specifically for children.

  • Read any picture books or stories before you share them with your child(ren) to screen for messaging and impact.

Mommy Please Don’t Cry by Linda Deymaz

When Someone Very Special Dies by Marge Heegaard

There’s Going to be a Baby! A Story of Sibling Grief by Katy Larsen

Gentle Willow: A story for children about dying by Joyce C. Mills

Where’s Our Baby? By Valerie Oldfield

Sam and Finn by Kate Polley

The Memory Box: A book about grief by Joanna Rowland

Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs by Susan Schaefer Bernardo

We Were Gonna Have a Baby but We had an Angel Instead by Pat Schweibert

Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining death to young children by Doris Stickney and Robyn Henderson Nordstrom

Someday We’ll Play in Heaven by Shawn Strannigan and Dorothy Donahue

In My Heart: A book of feelings by Jo Witek