| Peter Cook
By now, you know that we, here at Largest Heart, feel very strongly about sharing not only love but also information.
Today, we are touching upon a sensitive issue: Someone in your immediate family tried to commit suicide and was unsuccessful.
This can be devastating to handle for both adults and children, especially if you weren't aware of any problems.
In this blog, we want to help you with some ideas of how to talk to a school-age child about a suicide try in your family. Our next blog will shine a light on the same issue but from an adult perspective.
(The 'child' we are referring to here is between six and twelve years old.)
'Must I say anything?'
We think it is essential to talk to your child. Without support, a child will try and make sense of the situation by himself. He might even blame himself for something that he may (or may not) have done.
The goal is not to engulf the child with information, but to answer any questions he might have calmly. It is even more critical if the child was exposed to the crisis. If not, you have a bit more leeway in considering what he needs to know to make sense of the circumstances.
What to do
Pick a private place when you can sit and talk. Keep it simple and invite the child to ask questions.
- Try and gauge what the child understands. 'What do you remember from last night?'
- Give your version of what happened. 'Mom was feeling sad, and she hurt herself last night.'
- Place some emphasis on emotional struggles. 'Mom was feeling depressed and found it hard to think of another solution.'
- Address guilt. 'What happened wasn't anyone's fault.'
- Assure him that the family member is getting treatment and that his daily routine will stay the same.
- Some children would like to go and visit the family member in the hospital.
- Tell the child about other supportive family members he can talk to. 'Grandma is coming this afternoon, and you know you can talk to her about anything, too, don't you?'
If the child doesn't want to talk, ask him age-appropriate questions and don't judge his answers. He must be allowed to freely express what he is feeling.
For some children, it might work better to give just a little information at a time so that they can work through it. They will come back for more details once they are ready.
Keep to your daily routines as much as possible. It makes a child feel safe. Hug your child a lot. Read together or play a game. It will give your child special comfort.
Older children may feel useful if they can contribute by helping with chores or help plan the family member’s return home.
Sometimes professional help might be needed
Our advice here is not intended to replace the valuable input that a mental health professional can add. If your child is struggling and you are feeling helpless, it will be best to get some professional support.
Some children need their questions answered, and they will be happy. Others, perhaps those who are more sensitive, might need one or two sessions with a caring child psychologist. Of course, what you say and how much information you give all depends on the age of your child and his or her level of development.
A suicide attempt in the family can be tough to deal with.
Don't underestimate what a child might be feeling. It is always best to keep the communication channels open. Please see a list of resources elsewhere on our website when you can find more help and information.