It can be very challenging for adults to know what to say to children following a suicide. Adults may find it difficult to tell children what has happened, however, communicating clearly with children is helpful to them in dealing with their grief and in feeling safe and secure.
At a glance
- Suicide bereaved children may experience anxiety, anger and shame.
- For children to adjust to the death of a parent they need a realistic and coherent understanding of what has happened.
- Effective communication that is clear and honest serves to reassure children to trust that someone will take care of their physical and emotional needs.
- Children will continue to grieve as they encounter new stages of their development.
- Children grieve differently to adults.
Particularly following a suicide there can be a desire by adults to protect children from the truth and hide from them what has happened. However, for children to adjust to the death of someone close to them they need a realistic and coherent understanding of what has happened. If they do not have this they will tend to fill in the gaps with their imagination, which can be unsettling and create anxiety.
Children will tend to be aware that something is happening that they don't know about; they may hear half-truths or exaggerated details from other children. For these reasons it is advisable that children are given age appropriate information from a trusted adult who cares for them.
Effective communication that is clear and honest helps to reassure children that someone will take care of them physically and emotionally. It also helps to create a renewed sense of safety, security and trust. It is preferable to use language that is familiar to the child that they will understand and that is comfortable for you.
Children tend to grieve differently to adults. Their grief will be intermittent, they will move in and out of the experience, and at times, may appear unaffected by what has happened. It is also important to remember that children will continue to grieve as they encounter new stages of their development. This means that as their emotional and cognitive abilities develop they will express their grief in new ways and they will have different questions that may require different or more complex answers as they get older.
Children generally learn to grieve by watching and learning from a significant adult. If you are having difficulties because of your own experience of grief and trauma it is important to seek some support from family, friends or available support services.
The sense of being out of control emotionally is often a part of grief that may overwhelm or frighten some children. Grieving is normal and healthy, therefore assisting and encouraging your child to accept this and find constructive ways to express and experience grief is important.