The father's plea - made following the death of his child's 10-year-old Massey Primary School friend in tragic circumstances - was heartbreaking.

The child died on Friday in circumstances described by police Inspector Brett Batty as "not suspicious" and the father wanted to know what children knew of death.

Did they fully understand what it meant, he wrote on Facebook, suggesting other families do as he has, and speak to their children about the subject.

But how to do it?


Totally Psyched clinical child and adolescent psychologist Dr Sarah Watson said the best advice for parents was to listen if their child was in distress, and take their concerns seriously.

"Take the time to really listen ... [and for harmful thoughts or behaviour] that arise out of distress, you want to be talking about the reasons for the distress and what to do about it.

"Help them find hope."

Questions about topics such as suicide should be answered when they are raised, and honestly - including telling a child if the parent did not know the answer.

Everyone was different, but children generally understood death was permanent during middle childhood, which is between the ages of 7 and 12, Watson said.

By 10 most children understand death.

"The thing with being 10-years-old is you are really starting to understand more about ... life, death and the future. The ability for abstract thinking comes as the brain matures."

"And at 10 puberty has started or is about to start and with that comes a whole lot of hormonal changes that can make emotions a lot stronger."

Avoidant behaviour a sign of distress

Despite understanding death was permanent, young people were impulsive. They may still harm themselves to end their distress, Watson said.

"They may be extraordinarily angry at other people and it's really easy to turn that inwards on themselves, and then it just takes being around something they can use. So we also need to have safe homes ... for example all medication should be locked away."

Children, especially boys, did not tend to say if they were unhappy.

Professional help should be sought if signs of distress, such as avoidant behaviour, including avoiding going out or looking in the mirror, were occurring, Watson said.

The family GP was a good start, and school guidance counsellors were also able to help.

Professionals were trained to put a good safety net in place to help keep young people safe, she said.

Meanwhile, Massey Primary School board of trustees chairman Kurt Jarrett said the school was supporting the community following their pupil's death.

A Ministry of Education traumatic incident team was at the West Auckland school today

"We had counselling for students and staff ... I've been very impressed with the trauma team."

He did not want to say whether the child was a boy or girl, or if the child had siblings at the same school.

His own reaction to the child's death had been one of "shock", Jarrett said.

"I'm a father myself."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.