How to Help Your Child With Traumatic Grief

Siblings also grieve when a child is lost. Depending on their age, that grief can manifest itself in different ways. One extreme aspect of childhood grief is childhood traumatic grief.

Grief and Children

Young children do not understand death as adults do. Their experience and emotional states are not mature enough to express in an appropriate way. For them, death is a foreign concept that parents must explain in clear, concise detail so that they grasp what it means for them.

Children are prone to acting out. When they don’t know how to act, they are irritable, off kilter and get upset easily. Sadness can result in poor grades, bad behavior, nightmares, clinging to parents for want of attention, confusion and fear of being abandoned by their parents. Some envision that the “boogeyman” will come to get them like they got their sibling, viewing death as something scary.


Guilt can also play a part in the grief of a child. The relationship between siblings is often a love/hate one. They love to hate each other from time to time. This is normal behavior of kids as they grow up together but when a traumatic event occurs, it can cloud their memories and bring feelings of guilt to their minds. They may even feel that they caused the death of their sibling because they fought all the time.

Childhood Traumatic Grief

Sad child with fatherThe emotions and behaviors described above are typical of kids when someone dies. It can go on for them as long as it does for you. However, there is another type of grief that is more extreme than the normal type of grief. It is termed childhood traumatic grief. It is like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) for children.

These types of feelings associated with traumatic grief are more likely to occur when the death of the child in question is either or both of these:

  • Sudden and occurs in a terrifying way (murder, accident, etc.)
  • The sibling witnessed or was involved directly in the event that led to the child’s death (motor accident, drowning, etc.)

Being young doesn’t mean that they do not need to discuss their feelings about the event. Even if the child was ill and death wasn’t totally unexpected, children can develop extreme grief. It doesn’t happen to all children but it is good to be aware of the symptoms just in case.

Symptoms include:

Nightmares that cause them to relive the death events – A child who survives an accident may dream that their sibling also survives or could have if they had done something different.

Survivor’s guilt – Why did they live through the accident but their sibling did not? The surviving child may even envision that their sibling is angry because they didn’t save them.

Avoiding reminders of their sibling – They avoid all mention of their brother or sister in conversation; avoid looking at pictures or handling their things. This behavior might be more common to older children.

Talk of suicide – They are so sad and grieved that they want to harm themselves or someone else.

If you have any suspicion of childhood traumatic grief, seek help immediately for your child. They need the intervention of a professional who can help them heal properly.

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