Explaining Suicide to Children

What do you tell a child after the suicide of a loved one?

The Truth.

Talking to a child about suicide is one of the hardest things you may ever do. It is normal to feel uncomfortable. Everyone feels unprepared, uneasy, and anxious telling children that someone they love has died from suicide. As loving people, we want to protect children from pain. Unfortunately, we cannot avoid talking about an event that will impact their life. As adults, we can be supportive in helping children to experience life naturally, and we can lead them in positive directions.

What children might be feeling after losing someone they love to suicide

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  1. Abandoned – that the person who died didn’t love them.
  2. Guilt – because they wished or thought of the person’s death.
  3. Angry – with the person who died, with God, at everyone.
  4. Denial– pretend like nothing happened.
  5. Numb – can’t feel anything
  6. Embarrassed – to see other people or go back to school.
  7. Confused
  8. Sad
  9. Lonely
  10. Wish it would all just go away.

Basics to Remember

  • They want to know that their feelings are okay no matter what they are.
  • They want to feel loved and valued above all else.
  • They want to feel protected and that no one else is leaving them or will die right 
now.
  • They want to know that nothing they did, said, or thought caused this

Some adults are hesitant to tell children that someone has died from suicide because they want to protect children from painful feelings. This is a very understandable concern because of the stigma associated with suicide in our culture. It is, of course, always a personal choice to give other reasons for the cause of death. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that when adults hide the truth in an effort to protect children, the children often see and hear information from other sources, such as a clipping from the newspaper, or an overheard conversation, from a neighbor, a relative, or another child who lets the “cat out of the bag.” One way to have better control over information is to tell children the truth yourself.