by Sarah Montgomery, LCSW-C and Susan Coale, LCSW-C
Addressing a child about the topic of suicide loss is understandably uncomfortable, but many of us, at some time, will need to have such a conversation. As clinicians, we believe that careful and thoughtful discussions after a suicide are critical to building resiliency in children.
Recently, we published Supporting Children after a Suicide Loss: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers, and it is exactly that—a guide through the often discomfiting territory of talking with a child about a suicide death. This guide is small by design, for when in the midst of processing a loss by suicide, you may have trouble concentrating, limiting your ability to read and digest large quantities of information. Broken down into small chunks, the guide helps you to address one area of suicide loss at a time. Some excerpts …
How do you prepare yourself to talk with a child about suicide loss?
When someone we know dies suddenly as with suicide, we can feel a myriad of emotions from disbelief, shock, numbness, sadness, anger and more. These feelings can swirl inside of us and make it hard to collect our thoughts. So, when this is happening to you as a parent or caregiver and then you need to share information with your child, it is normal to be apprehensive or uncomfortable.
The first step in talking with children is one that is often not recognized. It is simply to take a deep breath and take a moment to care for yourself. In the age of social media, this can be difficult as information travels so quickly, but at least take a moment to allow yourself to process the information. The analogy of needing to put on your own oxygen mask before you put on your child’s is an apt one here. Next, find a quiet safe place to sit with your child and prepare by grounding the conversation. A possible beginning may sound like, “Honey, I am okay and you are going to be okay. I do have something sad that I need to talk with you about.”