Helping Children Grieve A Suicide Loss

ne night, during an SOS meeting, a young widow tearfully asked “What do I do with my two kids?” Since I was not dealing with small children in my healing process, I had to tell her that I had no answers for her that night. But I offered to do some homework and bring her information the following week. Below are some of the suggestions that I found for her and for other survivors who deal with children in grief. Additional excellent information can be found in: Survivors of Suicide: Coping With The Suicide Of A Loved One – a pamphlet printed by the American Association of Suicidology, Child Survivors of Suicide: A Guidebook For Those Who Care For Them – a booklet by Rebecca Parkin with Karen Dunn-Maxim, and the book Helping Children Cope With Grief, by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D. In addition, there is a chapter dealing with children in many of the books on my Suggested Reading page. Dealing with a suicide death is difficult enough for adults; my heart goes out to survivors who share their sorrow with little ones – and I hope that the following information is helpful in that experience.


Topics On This Page
Suggestions Helping Children Through Grief
Talking To Children Assisting Children To Live With Death

Suggestions for Helping Children

Children have the same emotional needs after the suicide of a loved one as adults, but often their hurts are not taken seriously. Many times adults have their hands full of grief and do not think to reach out to the children. Here are some ideas.
It is important to be honest with your children. Give the correct information in a loving, compassionate way.

The explanation should be clear and direct. Be careful not to over explain.

Listen carefully. Answer their questions truthfully and be consistent in telling the truth about the suicide.

Talk about the deceased family member.

Discuss better ways than suicide to handle problems.

Tell all your children – even the younger ones.

Encourage children to share their grief with those at home and with trusted persons outside the family.

You can help your children grieve by letting them see your tears, by crying with them, and by letting them know that it’s okay to be upset.

Have a positive attitude toward your children.

Be aware of your children’s possible feelings of guilt. Assure them that it wasn’t their fault.

Children need to know that suicide is an individual matter. Even if family members do it, they can still choose not to.

Children may experience all the many emotions and phases of grief.

Teach your children to be selective about who they tell the story of suicide.


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Helping Children Through Grief
From Bereavement and Support by Marylou Hughes
Taylor & Francis, 1995, Used with permission

Return to the normal household schedule as quickly as possible. Children feel more secure with their regular routine.

Let the children know that they are protected and safe. When they feel secure, they will be able to live through their grief.

Try to understand the children’s behavior. If they do not have the words, they will express their grief through their behavior.

Involve the children in a ceremony that gives them an opportunity to say good-bye to their loved one.

Talk about bad dreams, or have the children draw a picture of the dream. Have them rip up the picture and throw it away. This gets rid of the dreams.

Do not be alarmed if the children play at dying or death. This is a way for them to work thought their feelings and fears.

It is meaningful for the child to do something to memorialize the loved one.

Plan something for the child to look forward to, such as a vacation or other enjoyable experience.

Let the children help out in age-appropriate ways.

When you are not available, make sure the children know that someone trustworthy is present.

Look at pictures of the deceased together.

Give the children tangible mementos of the person who died.

Let children stay children. Do not lean on them for comfort and support.

Let the school know of the death, and let the children know you are doing this. They may not want you to. Do it anyway. It is better for the children to know that the teacher and the other children know about the death, than to suspect they might know.