How to Talk to Your Kids About Suicidal Thoughts
Humans are born with an instinct to survive at all costs. At times, this instinct may be shadowed by a desire to commit suicide. While most suicides involve adults, some suicides involve children. In 2006, there were 56 suicides involving children under the age of 12. This could be shocking to some as it may seem that innocent children are immune to suicide however suicidal ideation, or thoughts, can be found in both adults and children. Unfortunately, many adults do not know how to respond to a suicidal child properly. Teachers and parents may dismiss the child’s feelings as hormonal thoughts or attention seeking. Even though suicidal thoughts can be found in children, it is not deemed a normal part of growing up.
If your child approaches you with complaints of suicidal ideation, your instinct may be to brush it away or reprimand the child for attention seeking. In reality, expressing suicidal ideation is an early warning sign that should always be taken seriously. You could take their suicidal thoughts seriously but also be at a loss for words. If you have never felt suicidal yourself, you could be lost in what to say or how to act. Your response to their suicidal ideation is paramount as it will set the stage should they experience suicidal ideation in the future. If you respond poorly, they will be less inclined to express future thoughts to you which could be dangerous, but if your response is warm and endearing, they will want to come to you in the future should they experience suicidal ideation again. Finding the right words can be difficult but here are some tips on how to react when your child approaches you about suicidal thoughts:
Take Them Seriously
Children often act out for attention, even if it is negative. Your first reaction might be to dismiss their complaints as attention seeking. Expressing suicidal thoughts is not normal behavior for a child, and the matter should always be taken seriously regardless if you believe they are lying or not. It is important to always take them seriously because if you disregard their complaints, they may hide or otherwise not tell you of their suicidal ideation in the future, which could be dangerous.
Express Your Love for Them
When feeling suicidal, individuals likely have low self-esteem, poor self-worth, and other negative emotions. It is dire that you express your love for them because they may feel unlovable and unwanted. Even if you believe your child knows that you love them, tell them anyway. Shower them with love and kindness. Remind them how loved they are by their family and friends. Let them know how easy it is to love them and how important they are.
Ask Them if They Have a Plan
If your child has a plan on how to commit suicide, the situation is much more dangerous. Ask them what their plans are. If you own a firearm, hide it or remove it from the home. Lock up medication or other deadly substances. Recognize that you can’t prevent everything. Many suicides occur in the middle of the night when the rest of the family is sleeping, or during the day while everyone is at work and school. It is always a good idea to seek immediate emergency medical attention should your child’s plans be feasible.
Seek Medical Attention
While the situation may not warrant emergency medical attention, you should always seek medical attention through a psychiatrist or therapist because 90% of all suicides are believed to stem from a mental illness. If a mental illness is present, the psychiatrist can prescribe medication. Should the child have a stressful life and poor coping skills, a therapist can teach them healthy coping skills to use in the future. Therapy is also a good idea because your child may be more comfortable with a therapist instead of with you.
Encourage Them to Confide in You
Even if your child has never expressed suicidal thoughts, it is important to talk to them about it. Ask them questions such as “Have you ever been so sad that you wanted to go to sleep and never wake up?” or “Have you ever wanted to hurt yourself?.” Even if their answer is no, let them know that they can always confide in you about this topic. Build a strong foundation for mental health as they could struggle with it later in life. If they do approach you with suicidal ideation, encourage them to come back to you in the future should it happen again. Let them know that you will always be there for them.
Your child approaching you with suicidal thoughts can be terrifying. Your reaction is critical because, to survive, they must be able to confide in you. Never react negatively to them as that could shut down the line of communication that could save their life. Always respond with love, concern and always take them seriously. While this situation can be scary, know that there are therapies and medication that could help. If your child has the intent and means to commit suicide, contact the local emergency hotline. It is always better to overreact to a child’s suicidal thoughts than underreact. Not taking them seriously and dismissing their feelings could be deadly.