Helping Children Understand

When explaining the suicide to a child or adolescent, provide truthful information, encourage questions, and offer loving reassurance.

Talking honestly about suicide does not give others the idea to take their own lives. In fact, understanding mental illness and suicide helps surviving family members to be watchful about their own health, and to take preventative steps when something is wrong.

  • Reassure children that they are not responsible, and that nothing they said or did caused anyone else to take their life.
  • Be prepared to talk about the suicide multiple times during the first days and weeks, and later throughout the child’s life.
  • Consider a children’s bereavement support group for your child if they are having difficulty adjusting. Learn more about these groups through the Dougy National Center for Grieving Children and Families (www.dougy.org).

For more information about how to talk to children and adolescents, see Talking to Children About Suicide, written with the help of two therapists who lost their mothers to suicide when they were children. Other books and information can be found in the resources section of our website. Another helpful guide is Talking About Suicide, part of After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools.

Joanne Harpel, Margo Requarth, and Nancy Rappaport. (c) AFSP Survivor Initiatives Department, 2014.

Margo Requarth, Grief Digest Magazine, Vol. 4, Issue 4. Reprinted with permission from Grief Digest, Center Corp., Omaha, NE, (402) 553-1200.

Understanding Suicide, Supporting Children is a 24-minute film produced by The Dougy Center. It provides insight on the emotions and experiences that children, teens and families affected by a suicide death often go through, and offers ways to help. The DVD and guide are a resource for training purposes, or for general viewing by parents, therapists, counselors, and others. Find more information on The Dougy Center website.