Talking to children about accidental death & suicide. I know I am not the only parent who has approached this subject with a great amount of reluctance and some fear. None of us want to say something wrong or harmful.
If your young child says a word like “bra” “wiener” or some other word you were not expecting you bristle up, blush, turn away, become angry, display shock or any combination of these. So, when your child comes home from school or church asking about accidental death or suicide, these may also be your reactions. You are not alone.
Here is some brief advise I have offered parents on the subject.
- Talking about suicide does not make someone attempt, or complete suicide. If your child is brings up suicide it is because it has already been a thought in their mind, been talked about around them, or to them. See what questions they have. Ask them questions about their feelings, fears and thoughts. If you can’t answer their questions it is ok to let them know you don’t know the answer but you will look for one and get back to them. What if you were shocked and shut them down dismissing the conversation because of your own fear? Well, you found this resource so go back to them, bring the subject back up and start a conversation. Tell them you were unprepared and afraid to do the wrong thing before but you have more information now and are available for them.
- Don’t be afraid to tell them this is hard stuff for adults to handle but we all pull together and help each other out. These are hard adult issues. Tell them this is a very grown up subject and a tough one for even adults to talk about, think about and understand. They should not expect themselves to deal with it or understand it if adults can’t. Express to them that this subject is upsetting but you are here for them and will work through this together.
- Let your children see you talking to your spouse, friends or family members about suicide, or accidental death and the person who has passed on. If you are speaking about it and they walk in the room, do not stop talking. Allow them to listen in and join in the conversation.
- Tell children you will always be as honest as possible with them so they know they can trust you, even with this hard stuff.
- Google “How to talk to children about suicide.” My favorite resource is by Sean Brotherson Ph.D and April Anderson entitled Talking to Children About Suicide. This article breaks down advise into age groups and many parents find this very useful.
Ask your child what they would like to do to memorialize and honor the energy, soul or spirit of their friend or family member in a positive way. It might be a song, poetry, or art work. It may be more physical like a hike, bike ride or something similar. It can be something done now, and then every year on the person’s birthday or anniversary of their passing from this life.
Depending on how close you were with the person I recommend a Safety Plan. Fill one out with them, one for you and one for them. This is a powerful step in allowing them to see you may need help and that you also have a network of people and tools you will use to work through this process. It also gives them a chance to see they don’t need to work through this alone, you are modeling healthy behavior.
Grief is complicated. If it was a suicide death then suicide is now a thought, or as some professionals say, an “option” and a “possibility” in the minds of everyone who loves the deceased. That is a fact. Which is why it is even more important to talk openly, listen respectfully, and seek professional help when needed.
- Talk about how this loved ones life affects they whole community. Allow them to see how their life also affects the whole community. Draw parallels as to how important your child’s life is and how important others lives are. Talk to them about their feelings and how to ask for help when things seem hopeless or scary or when things make them angry. Talk to them about times you have felt these different ways and what you have done to work through it.
- Seek help when you need it. If you are not getting the answers, resources, and support you and your children need keep asking, keep searching, make appointments for professional help, reach out for support from friends and family. You can always use the resource 1-800-273-TALK which is 1-800-273-8255.