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Navigating Difficult Conversations: Talking to Children and Teens About Suicide

Guidance for Youths Impacted by a Loss by Suicide

four teens with hearts

Discussing death by suicide with children and teenagers is an incredibly sensitive and challenging task. Parents, teachers, and adults in a child's life often find themselves unprepared for such discussions. It can feel intimidating, but fostering open dialogue and offering support during these tough times is everything.

Address Your Own Emotions First

Before approaching the subject with youths, it's essential to manage with your own feelings surrounding the loss. Take a moment to pause, reflect, and evaluate your emotions. By doing so, you can approach the conversation calmly and provide necessary support.

Be Honest but Age-Appropriate

When discussing a death by suicide with youths, you need to strike a balance between honesty and age-appropriateness. While you shouldn't dwell on the graphic details happened, it's equally important not to hide the truth. Use language that is suitable for the child's age and maturity level to convey the facts. This approach ensures that they have a clear understanding without adding more distress.

Validate Their Feelings

Help your youth put words to their emotions. Express understanding by saying things like, "It sounds like you're angry," or "I hear you blaming yourself, but remember, this is not your fault." Validating and normalizing their feelings is essential. Share your own emotions with them, emphasizing that each person's response is unique and that it's okay to feel a wide range of emotions during this time.

Avoid Speculation and Rumors

When discussing the suicide with youths, refrain from engaging in spreading rumors or speculating about the reasons behind it. Instead, focus on the fact that the individual who passed away was facing internal struggles and speak of the person who passed with dignity and respect.

Tailor Your Support

Every person grieves differently, and at their own pace. Some may need to talk through their feelings every day and some prefer privacy to work through their feelings. It's crucial to respect their needs, however, if your youth prefers to be by themselves, make sure to regularly check in with them to reassure them that they don't have to endure their grief alone. Ask the youth how they would like you to support them and let them know that simply being together is okay.

Extend the Conversation

Use this difficult situation as an opportunity to initiate a broader conversation. Encourage youths to think about how they can support each other and reach out to those who might be suffering. Ask questions such as, "How can you and your peers help support each other?" and "Who else can you turn to for help if needed?" Encourage them to explore healthy coping tools if they are struggling with difficult emotions.

Find Additional Support

Just like you should reassure your youth that they are not alone, please be assured that you are not alone either. You can find resources within your community and with mental health organizations like The RedShirt Foundation. If you need guidance, seek it out.

Discussing death by suicide with children and teenagers is undoubtedly challenging, but it's a conversation that cannot be avoided when the need arises. You can help these young individuals navigate this painful experience and build resilience for the future.

If you need someone to talk to, and don't know who to call or text, 988 is a great resource and they would be happy to talk with you. Always remember you are loved, you matter, and you are never alone.

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