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Grief in Children and Teens

Children do not have the ability to fully recognize what grief and the finality of death look like.  Although resilient, they still need support of family and known caregivers during the initial grieving process.  

Image by Tadeusz Lakota


Let children lead the conversation.  They will have questions.  Answer them directly and don't provide more information than they ask for.  Provide age-appropriate answers that will help decrease their stress.  Younger children need reassurance that not all things will change as a result of the death.  Remind them that expressing feelings is healthy and let them do it on their own timeline.  Model healthy grieving to them and continue to speak of their loved one and the memories that are shared.  Remind children that those that die by suicide are still loved and missed by others.  Remain calm during the conversation.  Reassure them and let them know that if they feel sad or alone that you will be there for them.  



The teen years are filled with all kind of emotions without adding a death by suicide into the mix.  It is important to listen to them and understand their feelings on the death.  Acknowledge the death in a matter-of-fact way, but do not provide a lot of details.  Do not avoid the topic, as teens may seek out information from others that aren't able to help them in a healthy way.  Continue to check on them long after the death has occurred, as they may put off grieving.  Help them with healthy coping options and be aware of risky behaviors that may appear.  Teens may have shame or guilt associated with the death.  Reassure them that everything they are feeling is normal.  It is a good idea to let their school and event directors know of the situation they are dealing with.  

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At-Risk Youth and Suicide

If you are speaking to a child that is at risk for suicide, based on previous attempts or diagnosed depression, then prioritizing the conversation on a loved ones death is very important. The conversation will be difficult.  You may not be in a position to have it, but a trusted adult or clinician needs to speak to them. They will be looking for how the situation is handled and will appreciate the validation given to them.  It’s very important to increase monitoring of children that fall into this category.  It’s also important to remember that talking about suicide and/or asking your child if they’re suicidal will not increase their risk of actually completing a suicide; it may actually decrease the risk.

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