How do you help children understand or process the complexities of sibling loss? If your deceased child died before your current children were born, how do you explain their relationship and cultivate the memory of their sibling?
It’s fraught and complicated for adults when a child dies—and can feel impossible to address or talk about. Sibling loss is doubly-complicated for surviving children because they may experience grief over the death of their brother or sister as well as confusion over their grown-ups’ sadness. Some pediatricians note that siblings are often treated as “secondary mourners” to their parents and caregivers. For communities looking to support a family through the death of a child, the following pictures books can help. Please note content warnings included in the summaries for each book.
Related: How to Talk to Kids About Death and Dying
Recommended for ages 4 - 17
Clementina M. Chery is an expert on grief, loss, and survivorship. She created this workbook to help her younger children cope with the loss of their brother. These activities can help children understand and express the many feelings and emotions, both good and bad, that come with grief. This book is accessible to all families who have experienced loss but is formulated with those who have experienced loss due to violence specifically.
Recommended for ages 2 - 5
In this book a little girl struggles with the sudden loss of her baby brother. The story is told through lilting and comforting rhymes. Through a dream playdate with her brother, the child eventually reconciles her grief. Content warning for families that this book involves SIDS/infant loss and that there is an image of an ambulance as well as direct mentions of the baby being taken away in it.
Recommended for ages 0 - 3
PJ Library author Todd Parr has a gift for conveying profound messages through simple illustrations. The Goodbye Book is an abstract story about how much it hurts to say “goodbye” – especially when we’re not ready to do so. The overall message is hopeful and the colorful illustrations are comforting to younger children.
This particular title is recommended for surviving siblings born after miscarriage and/or infant loss. While the story is geared towards children, there are helpful, direct, talking points for grown-ups too in terms of telling children about their deceased sibling and the role they played in the family. Content warning for discussion of miscarriage and pregnancy loss.
Recommended for ages 3 and up
A young child overhears her grandmother say something about “losing” the child’s sister. And so, she sets out to find her sister. In a simple, honest, and compelling format, this book is useful for children who lose an older sibling and follows the protagonist through the stages of grief.
Recommended for ages 4 - 8
This beautifully illustrated title is a good general tool kit for grieving families—especially those who have dealt with a prolonged illness or death of an older child. As the focus of the story and the memory box is on memories and experiences children had with the deceased sibling, it’s not an appropriate book to give to families experiencing miscarriage or death of an infant.
Recommended for ages 1 - 7
This sweet story is told in the first person from the perspective of the sibling that is no longer alive – it does not explicitly mention death and is instead a love letter and promise to the living siblings.
Recommended for ages 5 - 7
Why Do I Feel So Sad is an amazing, expertly curated resource for children and families full of worksheets, discussion guides, and a story.
Recommended for ages 3 and up
This particular story is considered a “classic” book on the topic of sibling loss. The overall message is simple, straightforward, and easy for children to understand and parse. Please be advised the the book contains very direct mentions of death that may be difficult for some children to process.
November 11, 2021