If Someone Dies From a Suicide, What Do I Tell My Child?Kenny Scott | Sep 29, 2016 | Child bereavement
Are you concerned about what you should tell your child after a loved one has died from suicide?
If so, you have my condolences. You’re probably feeling at a loss about what to tell your child, not to mention deeply concerned about how they will cope with such a sudden shock.
As a children’s bereavement counsellor, I know the subject of death can be an incredibly difficult subject to talk to children about at the best of times, but suicide is an extremely delicate topic that must be addressed and explained in the right way.
Below, I’m going to provide you with some practical advice about how to explain to your child about the death of a loved one through suicide.
What should I tell my child after a suicide?
Always tell your child the truth; never lie about the circumstances surrounding the death of a loved one or close friend, as in my experience, it will always come back on you. It’s important to explain that the person who died was ill – mentally ill.
That means that the illness was inside their head, and we can’t see it like we could a broken leg, but it’s still an illness that medicine (if they had any) couldn’t make them any better. It may helpful to explain that they wouldn’t have been thinking the way they’d normally think when it happened.
It’s safe to say that the loved one’s death will come as a shock, so it’s very important to tell them in familiar surroundings (if possible) and perhaps provide a blanket close-by. You may not want to tell all the details at first, but be prepared for them to ask.
If they ask: “How did they do it?” you may want to say that it’s something you can talk about later, but for now it’s important for them to understand why (refer back to mental health) and that it doesn’t mean they loved them any less.
It may be incredibly difficult, but you should be prepared to tell your child how the suicide happened, as fairly soon other people will know, and it’s better they hear the truth from you rather than overhearing it from someone else – or from other children.
How can I help my child cope with their loss?
It’s important to be open and honest with your child, encourage them to talk about their feelings, and be there for them when they need you most. If they are particularly upset, hold them (if they’ll let you), let them punch a pillow, slam a door – it will pass but in the meantime ensure they feel safe and loved.
Reactions will vary depending on the child; in some circumstances, I’ve worked with children who have been very upset and cried lots, or wanted to talk in great detail – and others who haven’t wanted to know what happened and simply didn’t want to hear about it; it was too difficult to take in.
Give your child time if they need it, and later (if they are old enough) let them help in making decisions about arrangements for the funeral. They may wish to stay off school until then, or return sooner so they can see their friends – let them decide.
TIP: I’ve provided some helpful resources for children dealing with grief in my blog ‘How Will My Child Feel After Losing a Family Member?’ which you might wish to read. Bereavement counsellors are also available to help your child come to terms with their loss.
I’m deeply sorry for your loss, but hope this blog has gone some way to helping you explain to your child about the loss of a loved one through suicide. It can be an incredibly difficult subject to breach with children, and you may wish to read further resources or seek the advice of a bereavement counsellor.
If you’re looking for ideas for what to do with your loved one’s ashes, you’re welcome to read our ebook: ‘6 Things You Can Do With Your Loved One’s Ashes‘.