When our children experience the loss of a friend or peer by suicide, as parents, we can feel overwhelmed. What do we say? How do we react? How can we help? Certainly, how can I protect my child? How do we deal with grief together as a family and as a community?
Deal with your feelings first
Allow yourself a brief moment to address the loss. You want to be a resource and a source of strength and love for your child. If you need some time to cry, feel sad or angry or talk about it with another adult/professional, then do so. Whatever you need to do to get in the right state of mind to talk to your child, do it. But speak to them as quickly as possible, in a calmer state of mind.
Talk about it, address the rumors
Contrary to some belief, talking about suicide does not plant the idea for your child. Besides, it’s unlikely your child has escaped the rumors or gossip that has followed a tragedy such as this. Ask them what they have heard. Share with them your emotions as well. Rumors or gossip will never prevent another suicide, it simply spreads half facts or unknown truths. Model for your child how to deal with gossip, hear it and let it go- don’t repeat it. Suicide is a complex act, often all the reasons, truths or facts are unknown.
Validate their feelings
It is important that your child feel supported and loved during this time. If they are expressing sadness, tell them “I can understand feeling sad, or wanting to cry”. They need to know these feelings are okay, and should be expected, and are part of the grieving process. Be supportive especially if they can’t articulate their feelings. Perhaps they say, “I don’t know how I feel, I just feel blah or bad”, that to, is okay.
Know that the grief of children looks different than adults. Your child may seem fine one minute and then overcome with sadness or tears the next. Let them grieve at their own pace, in their own time. Accept that this may be an ongoing process for them.
Talk about “Help Seeking”
One of the things we can do as parents is to ask our children who they would go to if they needed help or someone they knew needed help. Maybe they say you, maybe not. The important thing is that they have someone, a safe, loving adult to seek help from. If they can’t name a single person, then your next task should be to start looking for who that might be, together. A teacher, a coach, a family member, a neighbor – start talking about who that could be.
Having our children find loving adults to share with and to guide them is important and tangible. It is something that as parents, you can do when you feel at a loss for words or other ideas on how to help.
Even better, be that Loving Kind Adult to another young person.
Educate yourself on the facts and signs of suicide. (See more here)
Keep talking. Keep being present for your child. Suicide is painful and scary to talk about. It’s hard to understand for adult minds, let alone a child’s or teenager’s. Even though there may be discomfort for you, continue to be a safe haven for your child to share with.
Communicating with your child as they mature can feel challenging, and we offer some more ideas on how to do that on our blog post, Tips on Communicating with Your Teenager.
Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24. Nearly 17% of high school students report contemplating suicide at one point, and 8% have actually attempted suicide. (Source)
For more information on facts and myths of suicide, please see our our post on Teen Suicide and an overview of Commons Myths.
Suicide is Preventable.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, there are resources:
Pace Counseling Group is a private, professional counseling firm located in San Antonio, Texas. We are focused on continuously improving the quality of life for our clients and their families, at their pace. We remove all barriers to service by offering evening and weekend appointments, and working with all insurance. Make your first appointment online by clicking here.
To learn more, visit us at Pace Counseling Group or call (210) 481-3727.