If you know a child or teen who has had someone in their life die of suicide, it’s easy to feel ways to offer comfort and support.
After a Suicide Death: Ten Tips for Helping Children & Teens
1. Tell the truth.
It’s important to be honest with children and teens. They don’t necessarily need to know every single fact about a death, but they do need to hear truthful answers and information. Start with a short explanation of what has happened, and let their questions guide how much detail you provide.
2. Expect and allow for different emotions and feelings.
Feelings and grief reactions are influenced by many factors, including the age, personality and developmental level of the child. You may see a broad spectrum of emotions in children and teens, including anger, frustration, guilt, numbness, shock, sadness, relief, confusion, shame, fear, loneliness and embarrassment.
3. Talk openly about suicide.
Our society continues to stigmatize suicide, as well as the families of those le behind. It is often an uncomfortable and shocking topic that can leave people unsure of what to say. In light of this challenge, it is critical that kids have safe places where they can talk openly about the death without judgement and awkwardness.
4. Hold a memorial service.
No matter how difficult or painful the deceased person’s life or death may have been, grieving children and teens deserve the opportunity to say goodbye and to honor the person’s life.
5. Talk about and remember the person who died.
Don’t be afraid to talk about and remember the person who died. Remembering is part of grieving.
6. Share information about depression and mental illness.
Suicide is not usually a random act – it occurs in a context. Although no what causes suicide, most people who die of suicide have experienced some form of depression or mental illness. It helps children to know that the person who died was in fact suffering from a kind of illness in his or her thinking.
7. Be prepared for fears.
After a suicide death, children have many fears. During these times, it is helpful for trusted adults to stay connected and listen to their questions and concerns. Offer reassurance without making promises such as, “ is will never happen again.”
8. Inform the child’s school about the death.
Children spend a lot of time in school and a death affects not only family life but school life. That is why it’s important to inform a child’s teacher, counselor, coaches, and any adult support person in the school setting about the death. Talk with your child about what they would like in terms of sharing the news with their classmates and others in the school.
9. Provide outlets for grieving: Play, physical activity, art…
Play is a natural outlet of expression for children. While adults tend to talk out (or hold in) their grief, children are more likely to express it through play. This is one way you can validate their experiences and help them regain a sense of balance and control.
10. Respect differences in grieving styles.
Children’s grieving styles – even in the same family – can be very different. Some kids want to talk about the in his or her own way is essential.