Children fears, death, fears, siblings, sibling death



  1. Roche, Rosa M. PhD, PPCNP-BC (Clinical Assistant Professor)
  2. Brooten, Dorothy PhD, FAAN (Professor)
  3. Youngblut, JoAnne M. PhD, FAAN (Dr. Herbert & Nicole Wertheim Professor)


Background and purpose: Sibling loss can heighten children's fears. Approximately two million children in the United States experience the death of a sibling each year, leaving 25% of them in need of clinical intervention and more than 50% with significant behavioral problems. Fear, guilt, anxiety, and even distance from parents are some of the reactions that children feel after experiencing the loss of a sibling. The purpose of this study was to describe children's fears 2-13 months after their sibling's death. Fears were examined by children's age, gender, race/ethnicity, and time.


Methods: Children completed two open-ended questions about fears and five fear items on the Spence Children's Anxiety Scale. The sample consisted of 132 children.


Results: Children's top fears across age, gender, and race/ethnicity were daily situations (such as darkness, high places, and violent situations), bugs, animals, and medical examinations. Girls had more total fears than boys. These included fears of bugs and situations with parents and siblings. Boys and Hispanic children had more fears of daily situations. Black children had more fears of animals, whereas White children had more fears of bugs and medical examinations.


Implications for practice: Children identify many fears after sibling death, including but not limited to fantasy creatures, common daily situations, bugs, animals, and medical examinations likely related to their sibling's death. Identifying children's fears early can help nurse practitioners assist families in better understanding and responding to children's behavior after sibling death.