How I Plan to Talk to My Kids About Suicide

Child talking to their parent about suicide

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Care and Trigger Warning

This article contains content about suicide. If reading this brings up uncomfortable feelings for you, you can speak confidentially with trained advocates for free. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Suicide is a very complicated topic and can be difficult to talk about, especially with our children. However, it’s important not to avoid it because when children are left with unanswered questions, they will look for those answers elsewhere and sometimes, in the wrong places. Children are also likely to bottle up emotions and make their own interpretations of what happened if someone doesn't explain it.

In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15–19. It can affect those from all races, cultures, and socioeconomic groups. This concerning public health issue is on the rise. From 2007 to 2017, the pediatric suicide rates for those between 10 to 14 years of age have nearly tripled.

Therefore, I want to be ready, willing, and able to address the topic with my kids when needed. For instance, in unfortunate circumstances or if they see or hear about suicide in the media. Approaching the topic will depend on how old my children are and their ability to understand the concept. 

By the age of 8, children can generally comprehend the permanence of death. They understand that when someone passes away, they will not come back to life. Between the ages of 9 and 12, children will develop the ability to tell whether an adult is covering up the truth as a way to protect them. It is also during this age that children will share with their peers what they’ve overheard from adults and what they’ve seen in the media.

From defining suicide and explaining why someone takes their life, here’s how I plan to broach this topic with my children.

Reflecting on My Thoughts and Feelings 

The first thing I will do is figure out my thoughts and feelings about suicide. Before talking to my kids, I need to have clarity about my values, beliefs, and how I was conditioned. 

Culturally, I grew up believing that when someone chooses to end their life, it’s not to be talked about. Shame clouds over their loved ones. Silence and secrets fill the air. Gossip and speculation run wild but the context and awareness are ignored. Therefore, I know broaching the topic will be difficult as I have to decondition myself from those past unhealthy beliefs. 

Culturally, I grew up believing that when someone chooses to end their life, it’s not to be talked about.

I remind myself I don’t want my children to grow up in this way especially given my personal experience with self-harm and struggles with depression. Talking to my children about suicide can help prevent misinformation and create an environment where they feel safe talking about it and asking questions. I want to be the trusted adult that they go to first for appropriate information.

Be Direct, Honest, and Non-Judgmental

I plan to be as straightforward as possible. For instance, I anticipate some of the common questions. 

What Does It Mean When Someone Dies?

When my daughter was 4 years old, my parent's neighbor, an elderly man, passed away while she was staying with them. From the window, she saw the coroner come and take the body away. 

My parents explained to my daughter that their neighbor has died; however, later when I asked her about it, she wanted to know when the next elderly man will come to replace the one that went away. She thought death was like what we saw when we played Angry Birds on our iPad.

I had to explain to her that when someone dies, they are no longer alive. Every living thing will eventually die. They cannot come back. They’re not sleeping and will not wake up. Their body has stopped working and they no longer need to eat, drink or breathe. 

Being on the same page about death makes it easier to talk about suicide.

What Is Suicide?

When my children are young, I will use simple words, concepts, and explanations to define what suicide is. For instance, I might say, “Suicide is when someone is so completely hopeless that things will ever get better that they choose to end their life.”

If they ask whether someone died by suicide, I will tell them the truth. I won’t lie or use false and ambiguous statements such as “gone to a better place," “sleeping forever," “not hurting anymore,” or “with the angels."

This only creates confusion as my children can sense something horrible has occurred; masking it makes me seem less trustworthy. It might push them to look for information from somewhere or someone else who is not reliable.

Why Would Someone Want to End Their Life?

I won’t elaborate, or give my opinion or judgment about why it happened. For instance, I will avoid using language that implies they were selfish or cowardly for taking the easy way out. Sticking to facts gives them the right information and allows them to think about it independently. 

I won’t make assumptions about the person’s life. I will simply state that when someone dies by suicide, they were in a lot of emotional, mental, and physical pain. They felt stuck for a long time. The only way they thought that could end how they felt was to stop living. They didn’t think anyone could help them. It’s important to emphasize that when someone dies by suicide, it’s not anyone’s fault.

It’s important to emphasize that when someone dies by suicide, it’s not anyone’s fault.

Keep the Conversation Open

The most important thing is to ensure there is an ongoing dialogue about this. As my children grow up and enter their teen years, I’m certain they will know someone who struggles with their mental health and they may experience them too. 

I will not be afraid to ask them whether they know anyone who has suicidal thoughts or if they’ve had these themselves. This was something my parents never did. I hope that over time, I would have built enough trust with them that they feel safe sharing these thoughts with me. It will be crucial for me to emphasize that I’m here for them and always available to listen and to support them unconditionally.

If you or your child are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Utah Healthcare. How to talk to your child about suicide: an age-by-age guide.

  2. Shain B, COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE, Braverman PK, et al. Suicide and suicide attempts in adolescents. Pediatrics. 2016;138(1):e20161420

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Suicide: pediatric mental health minute series.

  4. Mental Health Commission of Canada. Talking to children about a suicide.

By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality and systems improvement projects, and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services, and women's health. Her expertise in facilitating, storytelling, coaching, and promoting tough and honest conversations provides the foundation for her site, Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve.