A traumatic event can have a devastating effect on an entire family and the relationships that they have with one another. The death of a family member, a violent accident, or a life-threatening experience can all have a very painful effect on each member of the family. It is important to remember that every person in the family is likely to react differently to the event and have their own personal way of coping with trauma.
Reactions to trauma can differ based on the family member’s age, developmental level, traumatic history, their relationship with the person who passed away and their personal exposure to the event. The children in a family are often the most vulnerable to trauma and each sibling will have their own person reaction. Trauma can also significantly affect siblings and their relationships with one another.
When a traumatic event occurs it can change the way that families work to survive and adapt to their new circumstances. Overall family functioning can changes as siblings may take on different roles in order to cope with the situation. Sibling relationships can develop differently than they would without any trauma as children adjust to live with the stress that they’ve experienced.
Sibling Relationships and Trauma
Children can sometimes benefit from their sibling relationships after a traumatic event because they can provide companionship, comfort, emotional support and family connection during times of stress. However, in some cases siblings can also have social developmental issues related to trauma that can cause them to experience rivalries and more intense conflict between one another. Siblings can also become estranged or distance themselves from one another as a coping mechanism to deal with the trauma.
After a traumatic experience each sibling may end up taking on different roles to manage the aftermath of the event. An older sibling might need to contribute to helping the family manage the situation and may have more responsibilities than they would otherwise have had. In the case of parent death an older sibling may have to care for younger children in the family or bring in extra income if they are of working age to support the family.
Younger siblings may be especially vulnerable to trauma because they are in an earlier developmental stage than the rest of the family. While older siblings and parents will be much more equipped to cope with the stress, the youngest child may feel left behind or not understand how to handle their emotions. In the stress of the aftermath the youngest child may feel ignored or internalize other sibling’s behavior if they don’t fully understand the situation.
Helping Siblings Cope with Trauma
Whenever a trauma takes place it is important for parents and caregivers to make sure that each sibling is able to cope with the event and process their feelings. This can be difficult as each person in the family will need to deal with their own trauma as well as care for children’s needs. Without special attention and care sibling relationships and their own individual mental health can be seriously damaged.
Parents should make sure to help siblings develop healthy relationships with one another and learn to rely on each other for emotional support and companionship. If siblings appear to becoming estranged or are arguing and fighting more than usual then family therapy may be beneficial to help resolve these issues. Siblings can have complex connections with one another and emotional stress can put a strain on their relationships.
Siblings need to have positive relationships with one another in order to develop socially and learn to relate to others outside of their family as well. Strained sibling relationships can cause problems later on in life when it comes to connecting with others and feeling safe in social situations. Sibling rivalries or conflict can make family life chaotic and make it difficult for the whole family to cope with trauma.
In every family it is important to pay attention to how each sibling is coping with the trauma and be aware of their individual reactions. You shouldn’t assume that each child will handle the event the same way. If the oldest sibling is managing their emotions well it does not mean that the youngest will or vice versa.
If any particular family member is struggling with their reaction to a traumatic event then either individual or family therapy can be beneficial. Therapy can be a great way for families to learn how to process grief and trauma in a way that they would not be able to understand on their own. Family therapy can help improve relationships between siblings and resolve any conflict or estrangement that could damage their bond.
Recovering from a trauma is a long process and therapy can help make the journey easier for each individual family member.