I will never forget the first time I had to ask a child if they were suicidal. This kiddo was 11 years old. Whew! The answer to “Are you feeling like you could hurt yourself?” was “Yep, I am going to kill myself tomorrow.” Thankfully, the answer included “tomorrow” so I had some time to work some things through. No one likes to have these conversations, not even trained professionals. However, these discussions are necessary. The reality is that if our kids cannot come to us to talk about suicidal feelings, a friend who is thinking of suicide, or a peer who has committed suicide, they are left all alone to deal with these emotions on their own. That’s a lonely place to be.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death. Children are definitely not the only ones who commit suicide. As adults, we need to recognize the pain that the children of today are facing and deal with it head on. Here are some tips for talking to your teens about suicide:
- Be direct, yet compassionate. Kids have a lot on their plates these days. They are trying to navigate in a world that is hard for most adults to understand. Let them know that you are available to talk about anything, including suicide. Ask if they know anyone who has ever thought about suicide and what they think about the topic in general.
- Be available. Kids are not going to come to talk to you at the most convenient time for you. They are going to want to talk to you when it is past their bedtime or driving in the car or when you are late for an appointment. Be available. This discussion really is more important than all of the other things in your life.
- Be honest and sincere. If your kids ask you if you have ever thought about suicide, be honest. You do not have to go into all the details, but kids will know if you are lying.
- Listen first. Keep your mouth closed and let your kiddo talk. It may take them some time to “spit it all out.” That’s okay, just be patient and let them talk without you interrupting.
- Ask if they want input. If there is no immediate danger, ask if your child wants you to weigh in on with your opinion. By asking if they want your opinion before giving it, you are sharing control and letting them know that you are not “the boss.” Because this is such an emotional and sensitive topic, it’s important to tread lightly.
- If you are concerned about immediate danger, as in your teen has a plan, seek professional help immediately. Head to the nearest hospital emergency room and ask them to complete a psychiatric evaluation. This is no time to be your child’s friend. You want to focus on safety.
Suicide is an intense topic. Get comfortable with your feelings about it and recognize that kids are already talking about suicide. The best place for your kids to learn about what to do when they feel suicidal or what to do if a friend is in need is from you. Seek help from a local therapist if needed. Talk to them and open the lines of communication about suicide.