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Experts explain how to talk about suicide with kids by age By Meghan Holohan

Experts explain how to talk about suicide with kids by age

Talking about suicide can be difficult for parents. Mental health and parenting experts explain how to address the subject to kids of every age.

 / Source: TODAY
By Meghan Holohan

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to additional resources.

With the news of two students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School dying by apparent suicide, it seems inevitable that children will hear the word suicide. While parents may feel wary about talking about mental health and suicide with their children, experts say it’s important. Death by suicide has increased every year since 1999 in people age 10 to 74. Talking about it makes a huge difference.

“It can go a long way to feel supported by other people,” Thea Gallagher, clinic director at the Center for Treatment and Study of Anxiety in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told TODAY.

What’s more, discussing suicide doesn’t encourage it.

“You can’t prompt suicide by talking about it or asking about it,” Gallagher said.

How parents address suicide with their children varies by age. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association recommend that parents do not talk about tragedies until children are 8 years old.

“If this isn’t going to touch your kids, you don’t need to address it,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert, told TODAY. “If you think they are going to hear about it — even with the youngest kids — then you should talk about it.”

Parents shouldn’t avoid this conversation just because it is tough.

“It is incredibly important because of the stigma around mental health; it is a reason people give for not getting help,” she said.

Talking about suicide with children is important for three reasons, said Gilboa.

  1. Children deserve the truth: Lying or hiding the truth from children often backfires. What’s more, it can ruin the relationship between child and parent.
  2. Mental health is genetic: Mental illness runs in family and affects almost every family. Sharing accurate information about mental health and suicide gives children information accurate information about it.
  3. Even if it doesn’t happen in your family, hearing about it provides parents a good starting point for having a candid talk about suicide and its impact on others.

Preschool-Kindergarten: Stick to the basics.

If a young child asks about suicide, Gilboa recommends keeping it simple.

“You could say ‘This person died and it is really sad,’” she said. “’They had a bad disease and it just took over.’ Just exactly like you would talk to your kids if someone had cancer.”

Gallagher agrees that giving children basics works best.

“Follow the lead of the child,” she said. “Gauge where they are developmentally and cognitively.”

Ages 7 to 10: Give short, true answers.

From 7 to 10, it’s still important for parents to emphasize the death is sad and that the person died from a disease.


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