(CNN)To lose a brother or sister while growing up is painful enough. When it's the result of gun violence, the weight can seem insurmountable.
When children are killed by bullets, grieving parents are often the focus. Yet there are other vulnerable survivors whose voices are rarely heard: the young brothers and sisters left behind. Theirs is the untold story of this American tragedy.
- Reach out for help: Parents may not have the strength to provide everything their remaining children need; they should ask for support from communities their surviving children feel connected to, spiritual or otherwise.
- Watch closely: Kids may not say how they feel, but they often show their feelings in other ways. Are they eating normally, taking care of their appearances or acting out? Are they shutting down, injuring themselves or misbehaving in school? Everyone in a family affected by gun violence can benefit from trauma therapists, including children. Therapists can often draw kids out in ways parents can't. Community mental health centers and local police departments may offer referrals. And the Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children is also a good place to start.
- Talk honestly: Discuss what you loved about the child who died, but also those aspects that were less than stellar. Likewise, the home should not be turned into a shrine where nothing changes. The home needs to grow, change and be touched by those who live.
- Don't compare: When speaking about the child who died, parents should be careful not to make comparisons to the ones who survived. Already those children may be wracked with survivor's guilt, and it's better to celebrate the living children for who they are individually.
- Don't overprotect: Every parent may be inclined to be overprotective, especially after they've lost a child to something like gun violence. But they should work to find a compromise. The goal of parents is "to launch children into the world" and that means "they have to experience independence."
- Keep rituals: Parents should talk to their surviving children about how they'd like to observe holidays -- and how they'd like to incorporate the lost sibling in these ongoing traditions. The sibling may be gone, but he or she will always be part of the family.
- Honor the deceased: Finding ways to do this can help the surviving family members. Perhaps it means making donations in the lost child's name or creating an annual event that keeps the child's memory alive. It's important not to isolate; this is one way to participate in the world and do good while acknowledging that a family is changed.