It can feel very difficult to discuss the topic of suicide with children. However, suicide is something we need to be able to talk about. Having an open and honest conversation about the topic with children is both healthy and important.
Children may hear about suicide from a very young age, through social media, computer games, the news and music. They may not always fully understand what it means. However, the impact of suicide will become very apparent to them if someone they know dies in this way. If this happens, they may observe the sadness and grief of others and they may experience a range of emotions as a result.
Discussing the topic of suicide with your child
When your child asks you questions about suicide, it can be helpful to first check whether you feel ready to talk about the subject. If you are grieving and in shock, it may be more helpful to have support to assist you with explaining this to your child.
Before talking to your child, you may want to have a chat with a good friend or family member about this. This may help you to think about what you would like to say and have a chance to rehearse it before speaking about suicide with your child. This may help you to feel calmer and in control.
It is ok to be honest with your child and explain how you are feeling. It is also important that they are given the time to express how they are feeling. They may feel confused and overwhelmed and need time to work these feelings out. You may find it helpful to reassure them that their feelings are completely understandable and that they can always talk with you about how they are feeling.
It is important to bear in mind a child’s age and level of emotional maturity when talking with them about suicide. While a brief explanation may be suitable for a younger child, older children may desire a more detailed explanation and may also have questions. You may feel that your child has reached a level of emotional maturity where you can explain to them that suicide means.
It is very important to continue this conversation around mental wellbeing with your child. For example, you can explain that it is important to talk about our own feelings and let someone know if we are feeling sad, worried or upset. This way, we can get support to help us feel calmer and stronger.
Reassuring a child affected by suicide
An important message to convey to a child who has been affected by suicide is that it was not their fault and that there was nothing they could have done to prevent this person from dying. Children can also live in fear that other family members or friends may also die in this way. It is important to let them express these feelings and worries and to offer them appropriate reassurance.
If your child tells you they are having suicidal thoughts, this can be a very upsetting experience both for you and your child. You may feel sad and shocked. At a time like this, the most important thing to do is to stay as calm as possible and listen to your child. Let them talk and say how they are feeling. Take what they are saying seriously and offer to help and support them.
You can provide your child with support by firstly telling them how brave they are to talk about this and that you are glad you now know how they feel. You can also offer reassurance by saying you feel it would be a very good idea for them to receive some professional support. This would typically involve bringing your child to see their GP, who may provide a referral to your local CAMHS Team (Child and Adolescent Mental Health).
You and your child may also find it helpful to access support services offered by organisations such as Pieta House. Organisations such as Pieta House can offer counselling for your child and can also offer you guidance on how best you can support them.
It is important that you let your child know they can always talk with you about how they are feeling and, if you can’t provide an immediate response, that you will discuss this with them as soon as is appropriate.
In these situations it helps to be aware of your own feelings and to seek support if you feel it may be beneficial. You may feel you would like to access support from one of the many organisations offering such services. These organisations include:
Pieta House 1800 247 247
Samaritans 1850 60 90 90
You can read how he presented information on suicide to children and young people on our Childline.ie site here.