My ex/ my daughter’s father died last year by suicide. We haven’t told my daughter how her father has died but I’m not sure if I should or how to even start this conversation. What should I do?
Thank you for contacting Ask Robyn with what is going on for you. We are so sorry to hear that your child’s father has passed away. This is such a tough thing for any child to experience as well as a partner or parent.
Discussing someone passing away by suicide can be an extremely hard conversation to have, and even more challenging to discuss it with a child or young person. The concept of someone dying is a lot more complex, for children under the age of 12 as they have not developed the understanding that death is irreversible, it happens to everyone, it means that the person who has died cannot do things in the real world. With suicide there is the added complexity of understanding causality, especially for younger children. This means they may require time to ask further questions, that may be upsetting for you. Make sure you have your own support available for after this conversation, your feelings matter too.
Children need to have their feelings validated, and each child may express their grief in different ways. It may present as anger, withdrawal, sadness, or fear. Throughout the process they need reassurance from loved ones that someone is there for them. Each individual has their own process of grieving, and it is important that this is acknowledged and encouraged. There is no “one size fits all” for these conversations, you know your child best and you know you best. It is important you check in with yourself and that you feel capable of having this conversation and being there for your child following the conversation.
When having the conversation, or any conversations about death or bereavement, with children, it is important to use clear and factual language that is not confusing or can be misinterpreted. For example, avoid using words like “gone to rest” or “passed away.”
It will be hard to talk about someone passing away by suicide, so make sure you plan in advance the language you are going to use, for example try to avoid language that implies blame. There are some helpful websites that may offer you further support, for example: www.childhoodbereavement.ie/families/children-and-grief/
Thanks again for reaching out and we hope that you have found this helpful. If you want to talk through this any further, know that the ISPCC’s Support Line can be contacted by email to [email protected] or by phone from Monday to Friday 9am – 1pm on 01 5224300.
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