How to Talk to Children and Teens about Suicide Loss
It can feel daunting to explain suicide to a child, particularly if you are already coping with confusion and shock. The following are tips about how to discuss this type of loss with your child.
Share the News Quickly.
It is ideal for you to share the news immediately, if possible. Delaying the conversation can sometimes mean that a child will hear the news from another source outside the family, which can add to the confusion or distress of an already difficult situation. Older children and teens may also feel angry or upset if they feel that they are “the last to know.”
Explain in a Simple and Truthful Way.
Give an accurate but simple explanation about what happened. Teens and some older children can understand all or most of what is known about the event. For young children, answer their questions briefly and with simple terms. For example:
- “She used a lot of pills to make her body stop working, and she died.”
- “He died by suicide. That means he made his body stop working on purpose. His mind was very sick, and it made him not want to live anymore.”
- “It was not your fault or anybody’s fault. We don’t know exactly what she was thinking or feeling when it happened. Maybe she was so sad or confused because of her depression that she didn’t know she could get help.”
It’s Never Too Late to Talk about It.
Sometimes we don’t know what to say or feel pressured to give a different explanation for the death, such as saying the person died of a heart attack. You can always revisit the discussion with more accurate information and explain why you chose to say it differently before. For example: “I wasn’t sure what to tell you when your aunt died, but I feel that it’s better if you know exactly what happened. I understand if you feel upset or mad about how I told you before.”
Be Open to Processing Over Time.
Regardless of your child’s age, the discussion of suicide loss can be a series of ongoing conversations rather than a one-time event. It’s normal for young children to ask the same questions repeatedly to seek reassurance. It isn’t necessary to provide the perfect answer, only to validate what they are thinking and feeling.
Ask a Kids Path Counselor.
The children’s counselors at Kids Path are available by phone at no cost to offer professional guidance on how to discuss grief and loss with your child. Call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with any Kids Path counselor. For more additional resources and tips on helping children with grief, visit our resources for kids page.