32ND ANNUAL CRIME PREVENTION GUIDE 48 When a Parent Dies by Suicide ... What kids want to know Children have a lot of questions when someone in their family dies. When a parent dies by suicide, those questions can be even harder to answer. Suicide often becomes a secret that nobody talks about. When children don’t have answers to their questions, they tend to come up with their own, which can be inaccurate and scary. Each parent and child’s first conversations about death and suicide will be different. How you address the subject will depend on the child’s age and ability to handle the information. But children can often understand more than you might think. This information will help prepare you to take the first step. It lists common questions children have when a parent dies by suicide, and suggestions for answering them. It is important to answer even the smallest questions. This information may also help you begin to explain the suicide to other family members or friends. This information cannot, however, replace professional help. Bereavement is complex, and suicide is even more complex. Please consider seeking help from a professional: it is highly recommended. Questions Kids Have Why? The most common question when someone dies by suicide is “Why?” It is a question that rarely has a simple answer. The only person who really knew why was the person who died. There is no single answer that helps children understand what would lead to a parent’s suicide. Even when the parent leaves a note, suicide is often very hard to understand. Try to keep your answers short and simple. Use words that match the child’s age and development. For example, a six- to eight-year-old child will understand things differently than a nine- to 11-year-old. Don’t give the child more information than he or she wants. The child will likely want to know more as time goes on. You can tell the child: •When people die by suicide, they are not healthy and are very unhappy. It’s not the same kind of sadness that kids might often feel when they experience an everyday disappointment. It’s a deep kind of sadness that goes on for a long time. • The parent was in a lot of emotional pain.When someone ends their life, it is because they felt that living was just too hard.They didn’t believe anyone could help them or didn’t know how to get help. They felt very sad and couldn’t see any other way to make the sadness stop. What is suicide? •With young children, explain suicide with simple, concrete terms and explanations. For example, “Suicide is when a person is so very, very sad that she ends her life.” • Be honest, but keep your answers to children’s questions simple and short. Do not give more information than the child wants. Children may ask if suicide was the cause of their parent’s death. The answer is “Yes.” It may be hard to say this, but it’s the truth. It’s much better for the child to hear the truth from you than from someone else. Did I do something to make this happen? Is it my fault? • Suicide is never anyone’s fault.This message needs to be repeated over and over again. • Children often feel guilty when a parent dies by suicide, or worry that they did something to cause the suicide.They may say,“If only I’d done what Mom asked me to do,” “If only I’d done all my chores” or “If only I hadn’t fought with my brothers so much.” Make sure children know they did nothing wrong.The suicide was definitely not their fault. It had nothing to do with anything they said or did. (continued)