Talking to children and teens about death by suicide

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Parents, teachers, school administrators and other adults in a child’s life often feel unprepared to help a young person cope with a death by suicide. These strategies can help you foster open dialogue and offer support.

  1. Deal with your own feelings first. Pause to reflect on and manage your own emotions so you can speak calmly to the child or children in your life.
  2. Be honest. Don’t dwell on details of the act itself, but don’t hide the truth. Use age-appropriate language to discuss the death with children.
  3. Validate feelings. Help the child put names to her emotions: “It sounds like you’re angry,” or “I hear you blaming yourself, but this is not your fault.” Acknowledge and normalize the child’s feelings. Share your own feelings, too, explaining that while each person’s feelings are different, it’s okay to experience a range of emotions.
  4. Avoid rumors. Don’t gossip or speculate about the reasons for the suicide. Instead, when talking to a child or teen, emphasize that the person who died was struggling and thinking differently from most people.
  5. Tailor your support. Everyone grieves at his or her own pace and in his or her own way. Some people might need privacy as they work through their feelings. Respect their privacy, but check in regularly to let them know they don’t have to grieve alone. Other children might want someone to talk to more often. Still others prefer to process their feelings through art or music. Ask the child how they’d like you to help. Let them know it’s okay to just be together.
  6. Extend the conversation. Use this opportunity to reach out to others who might be suffering. Ask children: How can you and your peers help support each other? Who else can you reach out to for help? What can you do if you’re struggling with difficult emotions?

This article has been adapted from American Psychological Association:

https://www.apa.org/topics/coping-after-suicide

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