How do I talk to my elementary grade children about a young boy in our community – grade-school age himself – who recently took his own life? I have a hard time understanding how a child that age has the maturity level to contemplate suicide. I'm not sure how to explain this to my own kids.
You're right – it's difficult to comprehend how such a terrible thing could happen. For a parent with kids of your own, it's painful even to think about it. While teen suicide has become disturbingly common in the western world, it's very rare for younger children to take their own lives. If your children are aware of this incident, we can only imagine that it's been very upsetting for them. You'll need to be extremely careful, sensitive and reassuring in your attempts to explain the situation.
Childhood suicide is usually the result of some serious family dysfunction. Often there is physical or sexual abuse involved, or at the very least parental neglect or a complete breakdown of communication. If this were always the case, understanding the kind of despair that might lead to childhood suicide would be a relatively simple task. Unfortunately, it isn't – some children are simply born with a genetic predisposition to clinical depression, which is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.
The best way to talk to your kids about this is to explain that we live in a fallen world. As a result, bad things sometimes happen to good people, even innocent children. Point out that in certain cases kids feel so sad about what is happening in their lives that they can't believe things will ever get better. They lose all hope in the future, and their emotional pain becomes so excruciating that they think killing themselves is the only answer.
You should also tell your children how sad the story of the child's suicide made you feel, and that you couldn't bear it if something like that ever happened to them. Assure them that they can always feel free to talk to you about anything that's going on in their lives, no matter how sad, scary or embarrassing it may be. Tell them that you will always love them and be there for them no matter what they go through. Remind them that God loves them more deeply than they can understand and that He promises never to leave them or forsake them.
If you need help, please don't hesitate to contact our Counseling department.
Suicide (resource list)
How to Help Your Child Grieve