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How to Talk to Your Kids About Suicide

Tips for Talking to Kids About Suicide

Suicide is an important topic to discuss with your children, but it's also a tough topic to address. Learn how to start the conversation, based on years of experience from Foundations Counseling's therapists, in today's blog.

Why do I need to talk to my kids about suicide?

Unfortunately, the tragedy of youth suicide is on the rise in the U.S. , especially for kids aged 10 to 14 years. Further, Children's Hospital Colorado reports that studies have discovered 15 to 21-year-olds are becoming increasingly stressed out and concerned about things like mass shootings, climate change and more.

These trends mean the concept of suicide will almost certainly enter your child's life at some point, whether they struggle themselves or lose someone they know. Fostering an open and honest dialogue with your kids will equip them to better understand and cope with this difficult topic. Plus, talking about mental health is an incredibly effective way to help battle stigmas .

And while there's no single cause, experts agree that increased rates of youth depression are directly correlated with increased rates of youth suicide. When you talk with your kids regularly, you're more likely to notice early warning signs.

How to start the conversation about suicide

It's normal to feel anxious when talking to your kids about something as difficult and heartbreaking as suicide. Here are tips you can use to guide the dialogue:

  • Use popular TV shows, articles and other media to bring the topic up naturally.
  • Unless your young child will learn about suicide on their own, the American Psychiatric Association recommends that parents do not talk about tragedies until children are at least eight years old. If they ask questions, stick to basic answers.
  • For elementary-aged kids, let them guide the conversation with questions and provide short, truthful responses.
  • With pre-teens and teens, you need to tailor the conversation to their level of knowledge. Again, let them guide the conversation, then you can fill in any gaps.
  • High schoolers are most receptive when they're treated like adults. You should also reassure your teen that it's completely normal to struggle with mental health.
  • Remember that discussing suicide doesn't encourage suicide.

What to do if you're worried a child may be suicidal

If you're worried that your child or another child is thinking about suicide, the first step is to take a deep breath. You need to talk about any concerns calmly and without judgment. It's easy for the child to misinterpret what you're saying — phrases like, “Don't think like that!” can feel critical, and you want to show care, concern and love.

Mental health professionals are an invaluable resource , so don't hesitate to call your child's doctor or school counselor if you have any concerns. But, if you have more immediate concerns, you need to call 911 or your city's emergency mental health hotline. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is another useful resource, simply dial 1-800-273-8255.