Considerations when talking with children about death and suicide
Talking with children about death can be challenging. There is no one right way to discuss such information and how and what you choose to share will be influenced by your personal experiences and spiritual beliefs. The following are some general considerations depending on your child's age.
- Share brief and simple information with younger children
- Check with the child what they have understood of what you have explained
- They may need reassurance that you will not be leaving them; “I expect to be around A LONG TIME to take care of you.”
- Keep in mind younger children often connect things or events together in a casual manner that are not related, e.g. “Granny is taking a long sleep”…does this mean I will not wake up from my sleep, when will granny wake up from her sleep, etc…
- Share with the child in an age appropriate manner that the person committed suicide, or “caused their own death”
- Explain to them that people die in different ways and from many different causes, this is just one of them
- "Their brain was really sick” or “not well”
- They were very sad because their brain was sick, but don’t worry not every one who is sad/depressed wants to hurt themselves
- Reassure the young person that they can always talk to you if they feel sad or ever have thoughts of hurting themselves
- Teenagers have a greater appreciation of conflicting feelings surrounding suicide and death, however they still need support and reassurance as they may regress in their functioning when exposed to such a sudden loss
- Explore with the young person their thoughts and feelings about the incident without being judgmental about their feelings. All children will cope with death and suicide differently, as would any adult. They will look to you for guidance and support during such times of loss. If you are grieving reassure them that you will be OK, that such feelings are normal and healthy, and if you cannot attend to their needs in the moment to provide them with alternative supports.
These are simple guidelines for your consideration; tailor them to meet the needs of your family, and your child’s age and level of maturity.
For more information: www.suicideinfo.ca
- Bart Speaks out: Breaking the Silence on Suicide by Linda Goldman, M.S.
- Child Survivors of Suicide: A Guidebook for Those Who Care For Them by Rebecca Parking with Karen Dunne-Maxim
- When Dinosaurs Die – A Guide to Understanding Death by Laurie Krasny Brown & Marc Brown
- The Grieving Child: A Parent’s Guide by Helen Fitzgerald
- Talking About Death: A Dialogue between Parent & Child by Earl. A. Grollman
Canmore Mental Health Clinic: 403-678-4696 / 403-762-4451