I recently offered an online series about how to have hard conversations with kids about a variety of topics. I selected four broad topics based on my 15 years of working with parents and kids to include: 1. sex and body image, 2. death and loss, 3. race and individual differences, and 4. big emotions. During the death and loss discussion, I considered the subtopic of suicide, but decided to leave it out of the more general discussion about death and loss. As I have been pondering that decision, I continued to feel an internal urge to include it. As I read news stories and social media posts about kids and teens who lost their life to suicide, I continued to feel the need to share tips about this hard conversation with you all. And so, here it is! (And there will be more “Hard Conversations: blog posts to come! So be sure to check back and follow us on Facebook!)
You see, conversations about suicide, like many other hard topics, carry with them this stigma that convinces us (me included!) that we should just avoid talking about it until “we need to.” Or until it “comes up.” And here is the real truth… none of us will ever want this topic to come up. Ever. And so it is our responsibility to crush that stigma. To de-bunk the myths about suicide. And the only way to do that is to talk about it. Openly.
But how do we do that? Here are a few concerns that I often hear (that align with common myths about suicide).
Concern #1: “If I talk about suicide, I am planting a seed that they should think about or commit suicide.” (#myth)
- There is no other way to say it, except that this just isn’t truth. When kids feel they are allowed to talk about something, it almost always is a sense of relief and support – not a thought of wanting to end their life.
- When you talk to them about it, be mindful that you are focused on listening more than teaching. Listen to their worries or sadness. Share your feelings of sadness about this type of loss. And listen as they share theirs. Again, our goal with this is not to educate them on suicide, but to listen and hear their feelings – sending the message that you will want to hear their feelings in the future as well!
Concern #2: “My child would never commit suicide, so it doesn’t seem relevant and I don’t want to scare them.” (#myth #relevance)
- This is a tough one. I don’t think any parents believe their child would want to end their own life. But I assure you, it is relevant to them. They may know someone who is struggling and can be a support to that other child. They might be sad about losing someone they know and need to feel supported in those feelings. Based on all of my conversations with kids and teens in the therapy room, talking about hard things doesn’t make them feel scared, it makes them feel loved and supported. It helps them to feel empowered to be the light for someone else as well. And many times, it is just this tiny light of hope that a person needs to keep going.
Concern #3: “My teen doesn’t really want to talk to me.” or “I have tried to talk with them and they seem uncomfortable.” (#copout #plantseeds #leanIN)
- Let’s put this out there — most teens don’t want to talk to their parents…about anything. I often tell parents that even if their teen is uncomfortable, just plant the seed and move on. Don’t keep pushing the conversation, but you may have to lean in to being a little uncomfortable to plant the seed that you want them to know how much you care about them so you want them to know a few things about suicide.
Helpful hints for this hard conversation:
- Determine what your message will be. Here are a few good ones for this conversation:
- You are NEVER alone. Even if you feel like you are the only one in the world who feels the way you do, you are NEVER alone. We are always here for you.
- We love you. We love you. We love you.
- You matter. Your life matters. Your future matters
- Once you have a message that you want to share, also prepare and practice the points you want to make within that message. Remember, you are just planting seeds (over and over). So you don’t need to get it all out at once. Start with the most important point and continue with the other points you want to make for future conversations.
- Start the conversation with something that you recently saw or read. For instance, “Hey Mya. I want to show you this story I read on Facebook about a teen who was depressed. And I just want to talk with you about how you are feeling.” OR “Hey, I read this blog today and it reminded me that I need to talk more openly with you about suicide.” Many parents I have worked with found this a helpful way to start the conversation and THEN remember, don’t lecture. listen. show empathy.
Below are a couple of other great resources for you to start the conversation as well.
- The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has many great resources – this article about suicide in teens and kids being one of them!
- Healthy Children is also a great website, from pediatricians, with a great article about 10 ways parents can prevent suicide. Check it out!
There are many more great resources out there to help you with the conversation. Mostly, just remember you have the power to make your words matter for good!
photo cred: pexels.com (George Becker)
Interested in starting a new group near you about how to have hard conversations? Or have a small group of folks who want to do a 4-week video series? Email me! firstname.lastname@example.org