As parents, we want to have a good open line of communication with our children. Children should know that if they have an issue they have someone to confide in.
A child needs someone to talk to who will not be judgmental, but will listen attentively to what they are conveying. One hard topic to talk to a child about is suicide. It is pertinent for parents to be aware of their child’s moods especially if he or she is depressed, anxious or just having a bad day. This is the time when a parent knocks on the bedroom door, parks themselves on the bed and opens up a dialogue about the child’s mood, emotions or outlook on life.
When a child conveys any written or verbal statement of “wanting to die” or “I don’t care anymore,” those statements should be taken seriously.
It has been found that one common trait found in families affected by a son’s or daughter’s suicide is poor communication between the parent and child. Listen to your child. Listen to what he or she is verbally saying, listen to their body language and watch what is going on in his or her life.
This requires keeping an open dialogue with your child. Start the dialogue early in life, that way it will not seem awkward or prying when and if you, as the parent, thinks something may be wrong.
Let’s say your child gets angry and yells “well, I’ll just kill myself.” Could it be childhood or teenage drama or attention seeking behavior?
First, talk to your child to ascertain the truthfulness of his or her statement. Don’t shrug it off as drama. As a parent is this something you want to be wrong about? Find out the reason for the statement and share your feelings with your child.
Explain to your child that everyone feels frustrated, depressed and sad from time to time even parents, but be reassuring that these bad times will not last forever. Allow your child to speak freely his or her thoughts and feelings without being judgmental.
Here are just a few examples of “red flag” statements parents should be aware of:
“I wonder how many people will come to my funeral,”
“Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up,”
“Everyone would be better off without me” and
“You want have to worry about me much longer.”
When a parent hears one of these “red flag” comments, try not to react with shock and do not belittle the child. Also, do not discredit your child’s statement. It could be that your child is actually saying, “I am in emotional pain and I need your help.”
Some parents may think that talking about suicide plants the idea in a child’s mind and may cause suicidal behavior. However, by talking to your child in a caring and empathic way shows your child you are taking them seriously and you are concerned about their emotional pain.
Just remember, if a child does make a suicidal threat, don’t dismiss it as a threat or a cry for attention. Respond to your child immediately and thoughtfully. It may be that this is the time when your child needs you the most. If you as a parent see any questionable moods or changes in behavior and your child references suicide and you don’t know what to do, call a hotline or seek professional help immediately.
Emil Knowles is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Board Certified Counselor with an office in Green Cove Springs.