For a child losing a friend through suicide brings up a lot of questions and emotions, such as why did this happen or what could have been done? A teen or adolescent may have many mixed feelings or may feel “numb.” Whatever they are feeling, your role as the parent is to help them and be supportive. Reassure the child whatever feelings they might experience, they have permission to let them out. If they want to keep to themselves for a while, let them. Don’t tell a child how they should or should not feel. Also, don’t discourage them from expressing negative emotions like anger. Talking about suicide will not increase the risk that others will go on to take their own lives. In fact, like a death from any other serious illness, suicide is now part of the family’s health history. Knowing the truth about mental illness and suicide enables all surviving family members to be appropriately vigilant about their own health moving forward, and take preventative steps.
Although it’s understandable that adults naturally wish to protect children from pain or bad news, shielding children from the truth can undermine trust and create a legacy of secrecy and shame that can persist for generations. You can protect children best by offering comfort, reassurance, and honest answers to their questions.
A child may experience the following feelings and that’s okay:
- Abandoned – that the person who died didn’t love them.
- Feel the death is their fault – if they would have loved the person more or behaved differently.
- Afraid that they will die too.
- Worried that someone else they love will die or worry about who will take care of them.
- Guilt – because they wished or thought of the person’s death.
- Embarrassed – to see other people or to go back to school.
- Angry – with the person who died, at everyone.
- Denial – pretend like nothing happened.
- Numb – can’t feel anything.
- Wish it would all just go away.
Tips on Explaining Death to Children and Teens
- Use the correct language- never use euphemisms. Do not use phrases as Grandma went to sleep or went away. These explanations can lead young children to become afraid to go to sleep or worried when parents leave the house and “go away.”
- Be honest with them and encourage their questions and expressions of emotions. It is important that kids know they can talk about it (even if you don’t have all the answers) and be sad, angry, scared, or whatever emotions they feel.
- Kids often will repeatedly ask the same questions; it is how they process information. As frustrating as this can be, continue to calmly tell them that the person has died and can’t come back. Also, do not discourage their questions by telling them they are too young.
If you believe your child could benefit from speaking with a specialist, click here.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!