Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Explaining Suicide to A First Grader

I never thought I'd need to talk to my 6 year old about suicide. But on the bus ride home this afternoon, some of the older students told her about a classmate of theirs who is believe to have committed suicide this morning.

So, because I'm not afraid to tell my children the truth about life, we talked about what she heard. I didn't try to distract her from the story, leaving her with unanswered question. Instead, I used the opportunity to talk to her about broken hearts.

A while ago, after the Sandy Hook school shooting, she wanted to know why someone would want to hurt other people and then kill themselves. At that time, I told her about broken hearts and that when you combine a broken heart with a "broken brain" (my overly simplified phrase for mental illness), it leads some people to do bad things, things that hurt others.

Today, I used those same words to describe what happened to Rebecca (I'm not saying she was mentally ill, but if she did commit suicide, she was not thinking clearly). My daughter's bus friends told her Rebecca had been made fun of because she had pale skin and really dark hair. Charlotte thought it was silly to tease someone because of that, and I affirmed this. We do not judge people by their appearance, but rather by how they treat others. In truth, Rebecca was a beautiful young girl with a nice smile and dimples.

Rebecca had been bullied and, according to a comment left on the Ledger article, her parents were working on finding a school environment that would nurture her and protect her. That same commentor shared that some of Rebecca's friends knew she might be thinking about harming herself. Unfortunately, it seems this information came too late because they did not share the texts and screen shots with a trusted adult.

This led to a discussion about what Charlotte ought to do if she hears about someone wanting to hurt themselves or other people. We brainstormed a solution and this is what we came up with:
  • Talk to a trusted adult - parent, teacher, bus driver, anyone who might be able to help the hurting person.
  • Don't worry about upsetting your friend. Their safety is more important than you keeping a secret. This is not a good secret.
  • Love the person. Let them know you will help them and then, follow through on it.
  • Pray for them. Ask God to help them see that they are His child and that He loves them and wants to help them.
I hadn't planned to spend this Tuesday afternoon explaining suicide to my six year old, but I did. She is sad for Rebecca and we prayed for the family and friends she left behind. I can only hope that this lesson will stick with Charlotte and, if needed, she will be able to help a friend one day from making such a tragic choice.

Parents don't be afraid to talk to your kids about the news. Once you have previewed it, let them read the news article for themselves (but not the comments!). Give them an opportunity to ask questions and have an opinion about what happened when hard situations come up. We can't protect them from everything or keep them in a bubble, ignorant of the pain in this world. Let's be prepared to help them process these types of events so they can be world changers, one person at a time.

(Just wanted to add... it hasn't not been confirmed as of me hitting publish that Rebecca did take her own life. I made clear to Charlotte that we still didn't know all of the details, so our conversation was based on what might have happened.)

How do you talk to your kids about hard things?

Ironically, today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you or someone you love is thinking of harming themselves, please seek help now! You can FIND HELP. Click here to donate and support TWLOHA's suicide prevention efforts. You cannot be replaced!


  1. Suicide is a tough subject to talk about especially with kids. We'll never know what they're thinking about and if such a conversation will affect how them somehow. Thanks for sharing this wonderful article. It's really helpful.

  2. My son is 7-years-old and we've never discussed suicide, as the topic has never presented itself, but we have talked about death. Kids are incredibly resilient, and after his grandmother passed away, he found solace in the idea that she was looking down upon him from heaven. He still talks about how much fun she's having up there, and it brings joy to me knowing that he can see the bright side of every dark situation. Thank you for sharing.


Thanks for commenting! Be sure to leave an email address in your profile or in your comment if you'd like a reply.