Sibling Grief Throughout Childhood - Michigan Medicine childrens grief responses. ... with the childrens developmental ... SIBLING GRIEF Sibling Grief Throughout Childhood By Betty ...
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4 The Forum January/February/March 2006www.adec.orgFrom the time that a new baby enters the family, a spe-cial bond develops between the children. Siblings pro-tect one another, support one another and ally togetheragainst parents and others. Siblings play significantroles in each others lives, and a siblings death can betraumatic for brothers and sisters left behind. In fact,siblings stories indicate that the impact of such a deathlasts a lifetime, perpetually influencing their ways ofbeing in the world. Not all siblings are affected to the same degree by achilds death. Parents, in fact, need to be advised that each child inthe family will react differently. Many factors come into play toaffect childrens grief responses. Individual sibling characteristicscome into play for example, the childs age and gender, healthstatus, temperament or coping style and previous experience withloss. Situational factors must be considered as well. These includecharacteristics of the situation itself, such as duration of illness,cause of death, where the death occurred and whether the bereavedchildren who were given the choice and became actively involvedin the care of their sibling or in planning of the funeral.Psychosocial environmental factors also have an enormousimpact upon sibling grief. The nature of the pre-death relation-ship, for example, is critical. When children have shared manyaspects of their lives, the loss of one child leaves a large emptyspace in the surviving sibling. The family environment also signif-icantly impacts upon grieving siblings. For example, children dobetter in families where feelings, thoughts and ideas are morefreely expressed; a sense of cohesion or closeness exists, andbereaved siblings exhibit fewer behavioral problems (Davies,1988, 1999). Because it is the interactions siblings have with theadults in their lives that are critical, thinking of sibling responseswith the words that brothers and sisters themselves have used todescribe their experience offers guidance in our interactions withgrieving siblings. I hurt inside. The siblings feelings include sadness, anger,frustration, loneliness, fear, irritability and all the many other emo-tions that characterize grief. Unlike adults who often talk abouttheir emotional responses, children are often unable or inexperi-enced at identifying what they are feeling. For children who hurt inside, the goal is to help childrenaccept whatever emotion they experience and to manage thoseemotions in appropriate ways. This is easier said than done.Because children seldom verbalize their thoughts and feelings at least not in adults terms its important that caring adultswatch for changes in the childs behavior and respond sensitively.Children who are hurting inside need comforting and consoling.They do not need lectures, judgments, teasing or interrogations.Rather, they need someone who is consistent and honest, and whois willing to share his or her own thoughts and feelings with thechild. Helping children who hurt inside is a two-way process. I dont understand. How children begin to make sense ofdeath depends in large part on their level of cognitive develop-ment. To help children who dont understand, adults need toremember that confusion and ignorance are additionalforms of hurting. Adults have a responsibility to beaware of what children understand, and to offer honestexplanations that fit with the childrens developmentalcapabilities. As siblings grow and develop new ways ofviewing and understanding the world, they will havenew questions about the death. Caregivers must be opento childrens questions, giving them the freedom to askwhatever they want without fear of ridicule. Helpingchildren understand is not just providing informationabout facts and events; it also is giving information about feelings,about what to expect and about what not to expect.I dont belong. A death in the family tears apart the normalday-to-day patterns of family life. Siblings do not know what to door how to help, and if they try, their efforts may not be acknowl-edged; they may begin to feel as if they are not part of what is hap-pening. They also feel their experience makes them different fromtheir peers. To prevent siblings from feeling as if they dontbelong, adults can encourage children to help in some way in theactivities of caring for an ill brother or sister, or involving them inthe rituals surrounding death. Ensure that the childs individualchoices are respected. Im not enough. Siblings typically want to make their par-ents feel better, but no matter what they do, their parents sadnesspersists and they are not enough to make their parents happy.Helping siblings to feel as if they are valued, loved and consideredto be special by the adults in their lives is the best way to help chil-dren avoid feeling as if they are not enough. If adults interactwith bereaved siblings in ways that comfort their hurt, validatetheir worth, clarify their confusion and involve them in what ishappening, it is unlikely that bereaved siblings will feel as if theyare not enough.I have often asked siblings what advice they have for adults whowant to help grieving children. They inevitably respond, Dontforget the brothers and sisters! Their words capture well themost important message. Though sibling grief may be a difficult,long and lonely journey, it is not one that siblings must travelalone if the significant adults in their lives acknowledge theimpact of sibling bereavement and are willing to walk alongsidethem on their journey, comforting and consoling, teaching, involv-ing and validating. ReferencesDavies, B. (1999). Shadows in the sun: Experiences of sibling bereavement inchildhood. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel.Davies, B. (1988). The family environment in bereaved families and its relation-ship to surviving sibling behavior. Childrens Health Care, 17, 22-31.About the AuthorBetty Davies, RN, FAAN, PhD, is a professor in the department of familyhealth care nursing at the University of California San Francisco. She has gained international recognition through numerous publicationsand presentations, and her leadership in helping to establish NorthAmericas first free-standing childrens hospice in Vancouver, Canada.Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT SIBLING GRIEFSibling Grief Throughout ChildhoodBy Betty Davies, PhD
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