How To Talk To Kids About Suicide
Suicide among young people is a growing epidemic across the U.S. In fact, it’s now the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 18. Knowing how to talk to kids about suicide can help them understand depression as a disease, put words to their feelings, and be able to recognize warning signs with their classmates. If your child doesn’t personally experience suicidal ideation, it’s likely that one of their classmates will. So, giving your child the tools to have these conversations with their peers and know when to seek help can help save a life.
The way you speak to your child depends on their age. Here are a few suggestions from leading organizations to assist you with these difficult conversations.
How to talk to kids about suicide: Simple is best for young children
If a child under 8 years old isn’t directly affected by suicide, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents don’t talk about tragedies. However, if your young child knows someone who committed suicide or asks about it, it’s best to keep your conversation simple and not go into detail.
Give short, true answers, and you can say things like, “This person died and it’s really sad. They had a bad disease.”
Tweens have a basic understanding
As kids get older, they can begin to understand the concept of suicide. Start the conversation with questions like, “What have you heard about suicide? What do you think about it?” It can be frightening to talk about death, so be extra patient and listen intently.
As you explain mental illness, explain it as though you would a physical illness, without judgment or blame. It’s best to say “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide” because the verb “commit” can imply a moral failing.
Teens need a safe space to talk
Teenagers are more familiar with suicide than kids and tweens, but it should still be discussed in a sensitive manner. Because it’s such a frightening topic, it can be easy to overreact. However, that can shut down the conversation and cause your teen to feel apprehensive. You don’t want to underreact either. Trust your instincts on the right tone to take and reassure your child that it’s a safe space to communicate.
A two-sided conversation is better than a lecture. You can ask open-ended questions like, “How are you feeling right now? Tell me about a time when you’ve heard that someone at your school was depressed or thinking about suicide.”
Knowing how to talk to kids about suicide is critical. Young people of all ages can struggle with knowing how to support their peers who might be depressed. Let them know that they should tell an adult if they think their friend is depressed or thinking about suicide. It’s a great idea to give them a list of people they can talk to and resources available to them like the Crisis Help Line, The Trevor Project, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Make sure they know there’s no shame in getting help for depression or suicidal thoughts. On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength to reach out for help.