What a sad and difficult – yet necessary – conversation we must have with kids.
Why do we need to have this discussion? Will bringing the topic of suicide to the table give kids an idea; a suggestion of a way out of difficult times? I get it; it can feel a bit risky to talk to kids about suicide. However, I believe it’s necessary; not easy, but necessary.
When you have this conversation, keep in mind your kids' personalities, temperaments, sensitivities, etc. Heart-to-heart conversations help your kids believe they can talk to you about difficult and sad things, rather than hiding from them. Talking about suicide now, gives your kids permission to bring it up in the future.
Here are some suggestions – for kids 12 and up:
- “I want to have a conversation with you that we’ve not had before. I want to talk about suicide.” Or, if this is the case, “I want to have another conversation with you about suicide.”
- Don’t let your fears and confusion stop you from talking about suicide. Bringing up sensitive and tough topics – depression, sadness – anxiety – scary thoughts - with kids, opens up another important discussion; coping skills and techniques to use when things in life are hard.
- You may want to start the conversation by talking about where thoughts and feelings come from; the brain and the mind. And, you can add, “the amazing thing about our minds, is that we can change the way we think; and when we change the way we think, it changes our actions and behaviors.”
- Explain, “Suicide is when a person is so depressed or so deeply sad and feeling so bad inside, that the person chooses to do something that would make their body stop working and die.”
- “We all can feel super disappointed, sad at times and even depressed. Sometimes these thoughts and feelings make people feel too ashamed to tell others.”
- “Sometimes, people are embarrassed to get help. They don’t want other people to know how sad they are.” “They may not know how to stop hurting inside their heads.” “They may not know it’s okay to get help when they are down, sad or depressed.”
- “I want you to have the courage to ask for help when you need it.” “And, I understand it takes bravery to talk about problems and ask for help.” “You don’t have to be silent about painful thoughts. I am here to help you.”
- You can even ask, “What do you know about suicide? Have your friends talked about suicide? Have you ever thought about it?”
- And, you may want to convey (in your own words) something like, “Dying by suicide is not an option. Depression or hopelessness or sadness can be helped.” “Everybody, even when they don’t admit it, feels sad at times.”
- Put the suicide prevention hotline number 800-273-8255 in your child’s phone contacts. Explain why. “You can call them 24 hours a day. They are always open and ready to help people who are depressed and sad.” “You can call them if you think your friend is suicidal or has talked about suicide.” Let your kids know there is a crisis text line that provides 24 hour help. Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the US, anytime to reach a crisis counselor.
- And, in general, listen more to your kids. Be open to their questions. Connect in more positive ways.
Don’t avoid challenging conversations. Be the person your kids can talk to.
Robin Goldstein, PHD