By Big C – TRIGGER WARNING
This is a heavy but necessary topic that I think parents should try to communicate with their young children. It seems like suicide victims are getting younger and younger.
First of all, Big E is NOT depressed and neither is she displaying any symptom of such. BUT given that she is a pretty mature and sensitive girl, who is struggling with competition for praises, attention, opportunity and always getting into petty troubles, I decided that I shouldn’t assume she has a perfect mental health. Many cases have parents who did not pick up any signs and the child was seemingly in perfect condition!
I like to use recent news to start the conversation so I can get her to share her thoughts and perhaps raise some questions. From that, we can understand her mindset better and try to set it on the positive path before it has a chance to spiral into the dark valley.
Just earlier this month, we just spoke about the 6 year old who fell from the 11th floor after she was spotted crying out for her father. Again, I did not want to assume that she would be rational enough not to attempt the same act should she ever be in a similar situation. So to me, it was important to educate her about what she should and could do instead of getting to the windows. I liken this to fire drill, getting them to be familiar with the drill!
Then last week, I read the news about the 12 year old who died by suicide after taking an Uber to some parking garage alone. I was stunned that she is able to download the app and get an Uber all by herself AND to even think of taking her own life at this tender age. Such action is certainly not by impulse. It takes planning!
So, I raised this topic during a car ride with Big E and it triggered her curiosity. She wanted to know what happened to the girl. I told her in a matter-of-fact-ly tone without judgement but with respect and empathy that this little girl killed herself. She was really shocked and asked why did she kill herself?
Since the news was focussed on the Uber ride and did not reveal the cause of the suicide, I gave certain scenarios that we typically read about, such as, being bullied, stressed or upset over bad results, feeling lonely etc. She suggested some scenarios as well, which I cannot recall at this point (sorry, so not helpful), but those are definitely situations that she feels fall into the same category as what I mentioned.
I tried to describe the scenarios that are more relatable to her age and experience, avoiding any judgement or condescending tone. I did not condemn the action but I talked about how the victim must have felt when they make that decision, and I shared about perhaps it can be avoided if the victim reached out to someone or someone picked up symptoms. And I focussed on the outcome.
I allowed her to raise questions and share her thoughts about what she think the victim can do. So that I know her current mindset. Glad and relieved to say that at this point, she is still positive on reaching out to us or her teachers. I also took the opportunity to remind her to watch out for her friends. Be sure to lend a listening ear to a friend when they are down. Let them know that they can reach out to her.
I am glad that I took the courage to discuss this difficult topic and allow Big E to know that we are open to discussing any issue with her. I don’t know if this would prevent a tragedy (ever) but I would be sure to revisit this topic every now and then, at least as a gauge on her mental health.
Sharing some key points that I have in mind when approaching the topic. Hope it will be helpful to you too.
- Pick a recent news to start the conversation. I find this the easiest way.
- Use respectful and empathetic tone. We do not want to make suicide victims look any worse than what they have been through.
- Allow your child to voice out his/her thoughts and raise questions. Be prepared that he/she may agree with death as solution. It is important to allow him/her to feel safe to share their real thoughts so we are more aware of their current mental health status and mindset towards solutions and suicide.
- Do not over focus on how sad the parents will feel. Just in case, your child thinks then this is the way to get the attention they want or the way to prove their worth and value.
- Discuss the potential causes that led the victim to take such a drastic measure. Talk about what possibly went through the victim’s mind as well. Use key adjectives or phrases that is appropriate for your child’s age. For eg, like feeling sad, very angry, nobody cares, afraid of facing parents, worried about getting in trouble, do not want to continue doing this anymore, etc. Help them identify the situation or the emotional state that could set them off the wrong path.
- From the above discussion, go through more positive remedy for each scenario. Talk about actual consequences of each scenario. It is not realistic to say that it is fine or surely whoever they turn to will surely listen and believe them; or that they can escape disciplinary action. We need to understand that precisely such remedy probably failed, leading the victim to feeling helpless and that suicide was the only way out. We can share with our child, say should step 1 fail, what else can they do?
- This is again one tricky part – discussing death itself. What does death means to both the deceased and his/her loved ones who are left behind? Let them talk about it.
Finally, I am really taking a leap of faith to do this and I am still learning. If you have good suggestions, please do share with me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!