Sponsored by the HealthcareTrainingInstitute.org providing Quality Education since 1979
Add to Shopping Cart

Section 10
Parent–Child Communication about a Death

CEU Question 10 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Grief
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

Read content below or click FREE Audio Download
to listen;
Right click to "Save..." mp3

On the last track we discussed the six signs of complicated mourning.  The six signs of complicated mourning are continuous hyperactivity, ongoing and significant changes in performance, persistent regression, ongoing depression, self-destructive behavior and chronic anger. 

On this track we will discuss suicide and murder.  We will explore how to explain suicide, how suicide confuses children, and how to explain murder.  You may find it helpful to play this track for the parent of a grieving child if the content applies to your client.  Feel free to do so.

Discussing Suicide and Murder - 3 Techniques

#1 Explaining Suicide
Bruce, a 34-year-old parent of a grieving child, had recently lost his wife, Denise.  Denise had suffered from severe depression for several years before she slit her wrists.  Bruce sought therapy for himself and his 8 year old son Cody. 

As you already know it can be helpful to tell children about death as soon as possible.  Therefore, Bruce’s therapist introduced him to Touch Therapy.

Technique: Touch Therapy
-- A. The first step in Touch Therapy is to have the parent position the child so the two are touching.  Bruce put Cody on his lap. 
-- B. The second step is to introduce the child to the topic of suicide gently.  Bruce stated to Cody, "I have something very sad to tell you.  When we feel sad, we sometimes cry and that’s okay.  I might cry, also.  When I cry, I need hugs."  Bruce’s therapist had told him that hugs would give Cody something to do if Bruce cried.  This may prevent Cody from feeling frightened. 
-- C. In addition to touching and introducing the topic, the third step in Touch Therapy is to tell the child about the loss and answer questions.  Bruce’s therapist had informed him that answering Cody’s questions may be very difficult. 

Bruce stated gently to Cody, "Mommy died yesterday."  When Cody asked why, Bruce avoided using too much detail.  He stated, "Sometimes we can’t understand why people die.  If someone dies from a car accident or from cancer, we can understand it more.  But sometimes people die in different ways.  Sometimes they do it to themselves.  Do you know what that’s called?" 

Bruce’s therapist had informed him that it would be better if Cody heard the word ‘suicide’ from Bruce first.  Bruce continued, "Sometimes people have an illness of the mind that causes them to kill themselves.  Mommy had it.  You don’t have it and neither do I.  It’s hard to understand, but it has nothing to do with me or you." 

Next, Cody asked how his mother had committed suicide.  Bruce stated, "This is hard for me to tell you, but I will.  She went into the bathroom and cut herself on her wrists."  Cody asked Bruce what Denise looked like.  Bruce asked, "What do you think mommy looked like?"  Cody’s description gave Bruce insight into how Cody was imagining his mother’s suicide.  Bruce’s therapist had emphasized the dangers of a child’s imagination as described in track two. 

-- D. Finally, the fourth step in Touch Therapy was for Bruce to encourage Cody to come to him if he had any more questions or if he heard anything that confused him and obviously the key element is close personal contact, the history of the relationship permits this.  

Have you had experience... treating children who are grieving the loss of someone to suicide?  Could a child you are currently treating benefit from Touch Therapy and type of explanation?

#2 Suicide Confuses Children
Bruce was later given a letter by Cody’s teacher that Cody had written.  Cody had written the letter to his mother.  The letter stated, "Mommy, you said you loved me.  How could you leave me and daddy if you loved us?" 

With input from his therapist Bruce stated to Cody, "Mommy did love you.  But mommy had an illness in her mind.  She couldn’t think clearly and her thoughts were jumbled.  Mommy loved you very much and she knew how much you loved her." 

Are you treating a grieving child whose parent may be able to use guidance in how to discuss a death or suicide with their children? 

#3 Explaining Murder
In addition to Suicide and Suicide Confusion, let’s look at Explaining Murder.  Another therapist I worked with related his experience working in a neighborhood where a 10 year old girl had been assaulted and then murdered.  The therapist found that the primary concern of the other children was the fear that something similar would happen to them.  He found it productive to spend time teaching the children basic safety techniques such as making sure their parents knew where they were at all times and knowing how to get help. 

The therapist also discussed with the children words to which they did not know the meaning.  One child asked, "What is asphyxiation?"  Another child asked, "What’s abduction?"  The therapist gave the oldest child a dictionary and asked her to find the definitions of asphyxiation and abduction.  The girl then read the definitions to the other children. 

The therapist also discussed the importance of funerals with the children.  He later stated, "Due to children’s dependency on adults for food and shelter, I believe it can be hard for children to understand that one human can kill another.  As I tried to explain to 6 year old Morgan that there are bad people who may want to hurt children, he reverted to fantasy." Morgan stated, "She  was kidnapped, killed, and then a big bug bit her and she died!" 

Do you agree that the reality of murder was more than this child could understand?  Morgan translated the murder of his 10 year old neighbor into something less frightening.  The therapist gently explained to Morgan that most adults love children and want to protect them.  He stated, "But sometimes bad people want to hurt kids." 

Do you find that parents of grieving children can be alarmed at the idea of explaining murder to their children?  Could this therapist’s approach to explaining murder help?

On this track we have discussed suicide and murder.  We explored how to explain suicide, how suicide confuses children, and how to explain murder. 

On the next track we will discuss the role of step-parents of grieving children.  Aspects of step-parenting that I will discuss are the three stages of stepfamily development through grief, how grieving stepfamilies differ, and coping strategies for the step-parents of grieving children.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Connolly, J. (2007). Murder-suicide [Editorial]. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 28(3), 111–112. 

Daigle, M. S., & Labelle, R. J. (2012). Pilot evaluation of a group therapy program for children bereaved by suicide. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 33(6), 350–357.

Zajac, L., & Boyatzis, C. J. (2020). Mothers’ perceptions of the role of religion in parent–child communication about a death in the family. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Advance online publication. 

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 10
What are two types of death which can be difficult to explain to children? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

Others who bought this Grief Course
also bought…

Scroll DownScroll UpCourse Listing Bottom Cap

CEU Test for this course | Grief
Forward to Track 11
Back to Track 9
Table of Contents

CEU Continuing Education for
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

OnlineCEUcredit.com Login

Forget your Password Reset it!