Children and young people have different ways of responding to the loss of a loved one compared to adults. A child’s understanding of death is related to age, verbal ability and cognitive development.
Being honest and helping a grieving child feel safe is very important.
Grieving children may not always have the words to talk about what they are experiencing and will generally learn to grieve by watching and learning from adults. If you are having trouble with your own grief try seeking support so you can help your child find ways to constructively express their emotions.
It might be harder to truthfully talk about the death of a loved one following suicide without leaving some information out. But not being honest can mean they may fill in the gaps with their imagination or half-truths they hear from others, which can lead to bigger issues, like anxiety.
Clear and honest communication reassures children that someone will take care of them physically and emotionally. It also creates a renewed sense of safety, security and trust.
Understanding death and suicide
There are three concepts important for a child to understand:
- Death is irreversible and final; it is not 'a trip' from which they will return.
- In death, life and body functions stop; the person is not asleep.
- Death is inevitable; everyone will die eventually.
Most children will understand these concepts by the age of nine years. Children who are bereaved before the age of seven are likely to come to a partial understanding of death.