As a parent, I know that there are certain topics that are hard to talk to your child about.
Sex, drugs, and alcohol are probably the main three that a a lot of parents dread having to talk to their kids about. When it comes time for the conversation, the message is simple:
Don’t do it.
There’s another topic that parents can’t afford not to add to that list.
The message is just as simple:
Don’t do it.
As a parent, just the thought of your child knowing about suicide is sickening. The thought of your child having suicidal thoughts is enough to take your breath away and bring you to tears.
For a lot of parents, it’s easier to think that it’s not necessary to talk to their child about suicide. To default to thoughts like, “My son/daughter would never do that.” or “I would know if my son/daughter was having a hard time.” or “My son/daughter is too young to talk about suicide.”
Like abuse, trauma, and addiction, suicide does not discriminate. It doesn’t have an age limit. Skin color does not provide protection against it. Nor does gender. Zip codes mean nothing.
In my career as an elementary school counselor, some of my most difficult days were the ones when I listened as students told me of their desire not to live anymore and their plans to attempt suicide. The youngest of these students was in Kindergarten. My first experience of a student contemplating suicide to the point of having a plan was with a 1st grader. Some may say, “They’re just saying that for attention.” And I would agree. These students were not okay. They needed help. Big time.
Listening as these students talk about these things is heartbreaking. Calling parents and hearing the shock and confusion is hard. I’m sure the conversations that were had at home were extremely difficult.
But you know what would have been even harder?
Finding out that one of those students attempted or completed suicide.
We all have mental health, and just like our physical health can change at a moment’s notice, so can our mental health. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, although there seems to be a part of our society that is bound and determined to convince us otherwise.
Don’t let them see you cry.
Boys don’t cry.
Neither do big girls.
Suck it up.
Get over it.
Today I spent the morning in a neighboring school district trying to provide even a little bit of comfort to students that were struggling to accept and make sense of the fact that one of their classmates completed suicide yesterday. More than once I heard them say things like “He was always so happy”; “I never thought he would do something like that”; and “I never thought that would happen here.”
Please talk to your child about suicide. You’re not going to plant a seed or “give them ideas”. What you are going to do is open a line of communication that is vital. That lets your child know that you’re not going to stick your head in the sand and that she can come and talk to you when she’s struggling. That he can tell you about a friend that he’s worried about. That you will listen and take her seriously when she says she feels hopeless. That you will find the right way to help him just like you did when he had a fever and a sore throat.
If you’re wondering how to talk to your child about suicide, this article gives some good ideas on how to broach the subject.
If you’re wondering what to say to your child if he tells you that he has thought about hurting himself or has had suicidal thoughts, keep it simple. Say “I’m so thankful you told me” followed by “I’m going to help you get through this”. If anything else, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. But it will be easier than wishing you had.