After a sibling loss, it’s natural for a child of any age to experience grief in some form. So what should parents consider a sign of trouble for the child after the sibling’s death? What could be seen as symptoms of mental illness? Below is not an exhaustive list, but it suggests common clues often seen in a child who is suffering emotionally, socially, and psychologically.

 Signs Not To Be Ignored

  1. Expressing statements or presenting behaviors that imply threats to harm self or others.
  2. Extreme social withdrawal, to the point of isolation despite the attempts of family and friends to connect.
  3. Prolonged inability to emote happiness (termed “anhedonia”) across all situations.
  4. Major disruption of normal eating and/or sleeping habits.
  5. Complete lack of interest in favorite activities.
  6. Any form of self-medication, including alcohol or drug use.
  7. Panic attacks or extreme anxiety that interferes with normal functioning.
  8. Sudden, extreme changes in personality traits, such as switching from an easygoing demeanor to a perpetually argumentative state.
  9. Mood alterations that affect daily functioning, such as frequent crying spells.
  10. Negative behaviors such as aggression, lying, or disrespect of authority, especially when displayed outside of the home.

To reiterate, these signs may be exhibited by a child who is coping normally with a death in the family, at least in the short term. But if they become pervasive and long-lasting, they could be clues that the child may need professional guidance.

In the end, use your best judgment. You know your child better than anyone, and if you are concerned, trust your instincts. It is always better to ask for help than to ignore potential trouble.

This article is excerpted from Turning the Page: Helping a Child Cope with the Loss of a Sibling. Learn more here: 

This is an excerpt from Turning the Page: Helping a Child Cope with the Loss of a Sibling, by Sue Trace Lawrence.

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Sue Trace Lawrence

Sue Lawrence is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology who began teaching at Ursinus in 2011. An alumna of Ursinus who graduated with a B.S. in psychology in 1983, she earned her M.Ed. and certification in School Counseling at West Chester University. At the present time she is working toward a graduate certificate in neuropsychology from Ball State University. While a student at Ursinus, she served as the teaching assistant for Experimental Psychology and earned Departmental Honors for her research on learned helplessness. In addition, her original sociology research was published in Pennsylvania Folklife. In addition to teaching psychology at UC and other colleges, Sue has worked as a counselor and educational consultant, along with holding teaching and administrative positions in early childhood programs. She is a certified PQAS trainer for the state of Pennsylvania and provides professional development trainings for early childhood and school age staff in her position as Assistant Childcare Director for the Pottstown Branch of the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA. Sue has written and self-published a book of poems and short-stories in collaboration with her late brother entitled Sob Stories. Currently, Sue has been conducting original research with UC students on the topics of childhood loss, grief, and trauma. She is currently working on a children’s book on sibling loss and has published a handbook for adults entitled Turning the Page: Helping a Child Cope with the Loss of a Sibling. Her future research interests lie in further exploring how early childhood traumatic grief experiences influence children into adulthood.

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