How to talk to a child about a suicide attempt in your family

If there has been a recent suicide attempt in your family, this may be one of the toughest experiences you and your children may ever face. It is important to take care of yourself so that you are better able to care for your child.

It is important to talk to your child about the suicide attempt to help her understand what has happened. Without the support of family/friends, children may try to make sense of this confusing situation themselves.

Sometimes children blame themselves for something they may or may not have done.

When stressed, a child may exhibit changes in behavior, such as acting out, trouble sleeping, or becoming more attached due to insecure, anxious or tearful feelings. It is important to instill a sense of hope, that their parent/relative can get help and get well.

When you should talk to your child?

  • If your child was exposed to the crisis and traumatized, she will need some basic understanding of what happened.
  • If your child was elsewhere and not exposed, consider what she needs to know to make sense of the changes happening in her life.
  • The goal is not to overwhelm the child with information, but to answer questions in a calm, non-judgmental way, so she is not afraid to ask more questions.
  • If marriage or family problems contributed to a suicide attempt, avoid details that would put your child in the middle, between parents or other family members.

How should you talk with your child?

  • Pick a place that is private where your child will feel free to talk. Be aware of what she may overhear from other conversations.
  • Keep it simple. Use words your child will understand and avoid unnecessary details. Invite her to ask questions.
  • Be aware of your own feelings and how you are coming across. For example, your child could mistake an angry tone of voice to mean that you are angry with her.
  • Ask your child age-appropriate questions, and allow her to freely express even difficult or uncomfortable emotions without judgment.

This post was originally published by the Rocky Mountain MIRECC for Suicide Prevention. You can find additional resources on their website including videos for individual age groups (preschool, school-age, and teenage) and a free 24-page full-color guide that combines all age groups.