Talking to Young Children About Suicide: Part Four – More Do’s

More Do’s

1. BE HONEST – Children know when they are being lied to.

2. Dispel myths

3. Retell good memories

4. Emphasize suicide is a mistake – there is ALWAYS someone who can help.

5. Let the child know (if age appropriate) that suicide is NOT transmitted through the family’s generational patterns.

6. If the child asks a question and you don’t know the answer look him/her in the eye and tell him/her “I don’t know.”  You have just conveyed a sense of honesty and a willingness to get down to his/her level.


Talking to Young Children About Suicide Part Three

Do’s                                                          Don’ts

1.Use the word Died                              Give too much detail

2.Answer questions as                            Give more information than

simply as possible                                  what was asked for

3. Give age appropriate                              Don’t delay telling the

facts and explanations                          child risking he/she will

hear it from another source

4. Stress to the child that

he/she is NOT responsible

for the death

Talking to Young Children About Suicide Part Two

Please review the previous post about the importance of being truthful.  In being truthful, we need to use sensitivity and have an understanding of the child’s perspective of the world around him/her, and the need to feel safe.  Here is how you may begin:

  1. Make sure you know the facts of what happened
  2. The child needs to be told as soon as possible to limit the possibility of hearing about this from another source
  3. Proximity is very important when you start talking as the child will need lots of loving touch
  4. Tell the child “I have something very sad to tell you and sometimes when one feels sad he/she cries and it is okay to cry.”
  5. You may add that talking about this may make you cry.  This may make the child less frightened if you start to cry

Remember, at this time, the child’s greatest needs are trust and truth.


Talking to Young Children About Suicide

When a tragic event such as suicide occurs in a family or inner circle of friends, how should we talk to the young children about such a horrible event?  We need to consider some very important facts before we start:

  1. it is not the expression  but the suppression of feelings that is most harmful
  2. The way most doomed to failure in handling a situation such as this is to deny, ignore, or to be untruthful to the child.

In all my years of working in this field, I never had anyone (including children) say to me “thank you for not telling me the truth.”  The child’s greatest needs at this time are trust and truth.  In my future blogs, I will suggest a detailed process for adults to follow if they should ever be in this difficult position.

Destructive Stereotypes That Hurt Suicide Prevention

Suicide is officially recognized as the number three cause of death among U.S. adolescents.  Most researchers and mental health treatment specialists claim it can indeed be the number two cause of death among U.S. adolescents.  In my past experience working in a funeral home and serving on our County’s suicide prevention coalition, I have seen many causes of death which could have been listed as suicide but were listed as accidents.

There are many effective and worthwhile prevention strategies.   However, one potentially effective strategy that seems to get overlooked is efforts to remove the stereotype of depression.

The National Institute for Mental Health claims “only about half of adolescents who suffer from mental health disorders are receiving treatment.  This figure shrinks to about one in  five who get treatment for depression.”  Research is very clear about untreated depression often contributing to suicide attempts and completed suicides.  Many parents are unaware of the signs and symptoms of depression or look upon depression as a sign of weakness or a character flaw.  Looking at depression as a character flaw creates a very powerful and destructive stereotype which many times discourages the suffering adolescent from getting much needed professional treatment.

Dave Opalewski is the author of “Answering the Cry for Help” published by The National Center for Youth Issues in Chattanooga, TN.  He conducts highly rated and interactive workshops about suicide, suicide prevention, basic grief, child grief, non-lethal self destructive behavior, and adolescent grief issues.  During June of 2014,  Dave is conducting workshops in Oklahoma City, OK, Detroit, MI, Mt. Pleasant MI, and Marquette, MI.

The 10th Most Frequent Question Asked About Suicide by Parents of Teens:

“What have your heard that has been some of the worst things said to a teen in suicidal crisis?”

The absolute worst thing I have heard or has been stated to me by teens in crisis is the “reverse psychology” line of  “just go and do it.”  I strongly advise against this “reverse psychology” theory.  If a person is depressed and thinking suicide is the only way out this statement surely does not make the person in crisis feel any better.  I also ask these people who feel this can be effective “how would you feel if they took your advice?”  Reverse psychology is a BAD IDEA!!!  The others include the following:

.” These are the best years of your life” – When you tell a depressed teen that these are currently the best years of his/her life, what hope are you giving him/her for the future?  You may very well be communicating that things will actually not get any better.

. “You have your whole life ahead of you” – The depressed teen may very well hear you saying “he/she will be miserable his/her whole life.  Once again, the depressed teen is not given any hope or encouragement, only discouragement.

“If you think you have problems now, just wait until you become an adult and have the pressures of being married, raising a family, paying the bills, etc.”  Once again, we give the depressed teen no hope for things to get better.


I believe these ten questions are an accurate snaoshot of the knowledge about suicide of our general society.  Educating our society about these key issues is of utmost importance if we are to make a difference against the fastest growing killer of our most precious resources; our children!!

Question #9 – “What are the most important things to teach our teens if they have a friend in suicidal crisis that shares their suicidal intentions with them?”

I believe that the two most important principles to teach teens in this case is first, NEVER keep this a secret.  This being said, we need to teach the helping teen to either go with their friend in crisis to a responsible adult for help, or the the friend in crisis won’t go with him, go alone to a responsible adult.  The responsible adult may be a teacher, school counselor, parent, etc.  Will the friend in crisis be upset? Most probably.  But chances are he will be alive and when he recovers he will realize the courage it took for his friend to break confidentiality and seek help for him.  In my experiences, i have witnessed this to be true almost every time.  The second important principle is to stress to the helping teen not to leave their friend alone if he seems to be in an acute crisis.  Take his friend to a responsible adult or call 911 for help.

Dave Opalewski is the author of “Answering the Cry for Help.”  he conducts a highly rated and interactive workshop on suicide prevention and intervention for educators, youth pastors, any youth caretaker and parents.  He is presenting in Van Buren County, Michigan on April 25th, Alma Public schoo;ls on April 29th, Caseville, Michigan May 17th, Oklahoma City June 3rd, Marquette, Michigan June 18th and 19th, and North Little Rock, AR July 22nd and 23rd.  You can contact dave to schedule your workshop at