How to talk to your child about suicide - Action for Healthy Kids
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Conversation Starters

Talking honestly about suicide with your child is crucial in keeping them safe. Scroll through these developmentally appropriate tips to start a conversation about suicide prevention.

For Young Children (Ages 5-10)

  • Teach children that all emotions are okay and are normal to feel.  
  • When a young child is displaying warning signs, or uses words or behaviors that could mean they are harming themselves, use simple and direct language such as, “I notice you are having a big feeling and [talking about or hurting your body]. I’m here to keep you safe, and you can always come to me for help”. Ask your child’s pediatrician or a mental health care professional for help.
  • Reassure them that they can always talk to you about anything. 
  • Use gentle language and be prepared to answer questions honestly.  
  • If a young child asks about suicide, keep it simple. This can sound like, “Suicide is when someone is having big, hurtful feelings and they decide they do not want to live. They forget they can get help, and stop their body from working.” 

For Preteens (Ages 11-13)

  • Provide factual information about suicide. 
  • Encourage open conversations about mental health, and ask directly about thoughts and feelings about suicide. This can sound like, “Sometimes when kids your age are struggling, they have thoughts about hurting themselves or even about dying. Is this something you think about?” 
  • Discuss the importance of seeking help from trusted adults, and help your child think about who that might be for them. 
  • Emphasize that they are not alone and support is available.
  • When a preteen asks about suicide, you can say, “Suicide is when someone decides that their pain or problem is too unbearable, and stops living on purpose. It’s important to know that there is help available when someone is struggling with suicide, and I am always here to listen and help you find help if you need it.” 

For Teenagers (Ages 14-18)

  • Respect their autonomy and validate their feelings. This might sound like, “I hear that this argument with your find feels painful and unbearable. This sounds so hard. Do you want me to offer my perspective, or just to listen?”  
  • Ask directly about suicidal thoughts and feelings. This might sound like, “Sometimes when someone feels this way, they might think about or feel like dying. I’m here to listen, and find help together.” 
  • Discuss warning signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  • Keep communication honest and direct. This can sound like, “I’ve noticed you seem really down lately, and I want you to know that if you’re ever feeling like you want to hurt yourself or end your life, I’m here to listen and help you find support.” Your teenager might find this corny, and that’s OK! You are communicating your willingness to talk about hard topics.
  • Work to remain open and non-judgmental.
  • Reach out for professional help if needed.

This project on Improving Mental, Behavioral and Academic Supports to Students and Families, Part 2 is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $434,555 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.