For the third time just this week, I heard from a teenager that someone they knew at school had committed suicide. Recently, an 8th grader who attends a small, local, affluent private school committed suicide in his home. An 8th grader! I do not know this family and I do not know the story behind this heart-breaking tragedy. My heart breaks for his family and goes out to them as well as all the students dealing with the loss of this young person. The pain any family who experiences such a tragedy is tremendous and gut-wrenching. My hope is that this article will help end the stigma associated with suicide and encourage parents to talk to their children and open a dialogue for future discussions.
The school had to tell the other students about his suicide. They even had to tell the kids in K-5 that someone had died. It’s a tight-knit community. Kids who should be frolicking outdoors, getting dirty, and remaining blissfully ignorant should not have to think about things this heavy. Kids should not have to worry if they will be shot in school, or at the movie theater, or a concert. This world is really effed up right now. Kids should not have to worry about these things!
But now they do.
How do you tell your son or daughter that a 14- or 15-year-old was so unhappy that he killed himself? That he could not see how bright and beautiful his future could be? How do you do this? You put yourself in their shoes. Empathy. Empathy. Empathy. You imagine how scary that must feel. You let them ask you all the questions they can muster. And then you answer every last one of them. If you don’t know the answer, ask someone who does. And you KEEP THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN!
The best way to prevent suicide is by having a conversation about it. Talking about suicide with your kids (or anyone else) should not be a taboo subject.
- Talk about the FUTURE.
- Talk about their hopes and dreams. Where do they see themselves in five years? In one year? Children (adults, too) who feel suicidal feel hopeless.
- Help them find a glimmer of something to feel hopeful about.
- Keep talking about it. The golden moment is when anyone expresses that they have given even the slightest thought about suicide.
- Be calm.
- Thank them for their vulnerability.
- Thank them for trusting you with their feelings and their fears.
- Encourage and value their honesty and transparency.
- SHOW them you’re listening.
- Put down your phone, get up from your computer, and look into their eyes. Let them know that nothing is more important than being with them in that moment.
- Listen to what they aren’t saying, too.
- Ask them how you can be a better parent to them.
- Ask what it is they are worried about.
- Ask them how you can help.
- Let them know they are not alone.
- Validate their feelings. Whether or not you agree with them, their feelings are right – they’re their feelings!
Seeing your child hurting is painful. But for now, you’ll need to put your feelings aside. Console your child and let them know you see that they are really hurting. Encourage your child to exercise regularly. Some of the natural benefits of exercise are reducing anxiety and depression.
Sometimes parents want to tell their children they are fine, it’s no big deal, not to worry… but this can minimize their feelings. Do not tell them how to feel or that they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way. This can come across as critical rather than loving. Let them know everyone feels sad or anxious sometimes, even parents. Be careful never to shame a child.
Today’s teens are immersed in a social media environment that suggests they need to be perfect. Let your kids know they are doing enough and that they are already enough than suggesting they need to do or be more. Monitor what they are watching and who they are following. If your kids are on Facebook and Twitter, then you need to be on Facebook and Twitter in order to monitor what they are doing. Pay attention to changes in their behavior. Are their eating habits changing? Do they spend more time alone in their room? Do you see them smile? What is their body language saying?
Know your child’s friends and their friends’ parents. This isn’t easy as your children get older, but it is really important that you do it. Make sure you are also in contact with school. Have a counselor keep an eye out if you are worried. Make sure someone knows where your child is at lunchtime. School is part of your team; don’t hesitate to use them as a resource.
According to healthychildren.org, any of these other red flags warrants your immediate attention and action by seeking professional help right away:
“I wonder how many people would come to my funeral.”
“Sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”
“Everyone would be better off without me.”
“You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”
If you are really concerned, please get professional help. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Let your child know you will work together and that you really respect them for getting help. You can also call the Suicide Hotline (in the U.S. 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours every day). They also have a Live Chat. They will make the determination; you don’t have to! Just make the call. It’s better to overreact than underreact.
If your instincts tell you a child is in immediate danger of hurting themselves, do not leave them alone. Call 911 or take your child to a hospital. Suicidal behaviors and thoughts are an emergency!
Call 1-800-273-8255 (available 24/7)
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889).