Supporting a Child Who is Grieving a Death by Suicide
There are a number of things you can do and various guidelines to remember when supporting a child who is grieving a death by suicide.
Whether to attend the funeral
The child should decide whether or not they want to attend the funeral. You shouldn’t force them to go or discourage them from attending. Giving them information about the following topics will help them make their own decision:
- What is the purpose of a funeral?
- Who will be there?
- What will happen during the ceremony?
- Who will lead the ceremony?
If the child decides to attend, you can assign someone to answer the child’s questions and help them understand what’s happening.
You may wish to offer to hold a separate, more personalized ritual for the child that gives them an opportunity to honour the memory of the deceased in their own way. The child could help organize such an event.
Helping a child deal with their emotions
It’s a good idea to tell children about the emotions that grief can cause, including sadness, loss, anger, confusion, calm, relief, and so on. This can help them understand that it’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions in difficult times like these, and that talking about them can help.
What’s more, it’s important for children to understand that there is no shame in having negative or positive emotions. For example, it’s ok to be angry at the person who died or to feel relieved, and it’s also ok to play and have fun, even if one or both of their parents are sad. At the same time, it’s important for children to understand that you are there to take care of them despite what you are going through.
How to help a preschooler or elementary school age child manage their emotions
Preschoolers and elementary school children may have difficulty controlling their emotions. Their inventory of coping strategies—the things they can do to feel better—is limited. The intensity of their feelings can also be exacerbated by the fact that the brain functions that regulate their emotions are not fully developed.
You can help them name their emotions and suggest strategies for feeling better (e.g., playing a game they enjoy, talking about their emotions when they feel sad or angry, etc.).
How to help an adolescent manage their emotions
Most adolescents have strategies for controlling their emotions but can still experience them very intensely because the brain functions that regulate them are not fully developed. Adolescents also have a strong need to define their identity. For this reason, it’s important to take the time to listen to your adolescent and reassure them that the emotions their grief causes are normal. It’s a good idea to explore strategies for feeling better with them before offering solutions.
Talk about their positive memories of the deceased
You can support your child during the grieving process by helping them remember the good times they had with the person who died.
It’s also important to avoid saying anything negative about the deceased, as your child may feel a need to maintain positive memories of the person. If you feel it would be helpful to you to talk about the person’s negative aspects, it’s better to do so among adults when the child is not present or talk to a healthcare professional.
Stick to the child’s routine and keep setting limits
It can be tempting to grant the child more privileges when they aren’t feeling well (e.g., more screen time or treats). Doing so may make the child feel better in the short term, but changing your behaviour and expectations can make them feel less secure in the longer term. Instead of granting extra privileges, you can offer choices that will give them a feeling of greater control (i.e., choosing the colour of their clothes, the games you play, the movies you watch together, and so on).
Consulting a healthcare professional for you child
Children dealing with suicide grief may need professional psychological support. Our page entitled “When to Consult a Healthcare Professional for a Child Dealing with Suicide Grief” can help you recognize the signs that you child needs professional help.
Are you grieving too?
If you are also coping with the loss of a loved one, you can visit our site for advice on suicide grief and how to get through this difficult time.