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Tips on How to Talk to Your Kids About Suicide

By Jessa McClure
Family ProblemsWhile we try to shield our children from the pain and suffering that happens outside of their world, instant communication and the presence of the media in the home has made keeping disturbing news more difficult. But, when children do see something sad or confusing, it helps open the door to talk about issues that could one day affect them or someone they know.

Actor Robin Wiliams' death by suicide was one of those topics that seemed to be all around us. And although it is easy to separate our lives from those in Hollywood, the truth is that suicide is prevalent in our world as well.

According to the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide, suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second for college students. Chances are, you or your child could be confronted with suicide whether directly or indirectly at some point during your lives. So, how do you approach this subject with children who might be too young to really understand the ramifications of taking your own life?

Choose a time when your child is attentive or is a captive audience like during a car ride. It might also be appropriate to use cues from the child's environment. If a news broadcast or television show has mentioned the topic, then it might be time to fill in the blanks for your child. You don't want them getting the wrong information from their peers.

Know what you're going to say before you say it. The Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide suggests coming up with a script and rehearsing what you'll say to your child ahead of time. And be honest with them. If you are having trouble discussing the topic, tell them. Your child will not only appreciate your honesty, but it will give them the chance to discuss their uncomfortable feelings with the subject.

Answer their questions as best you can and ask them pointed questions about their own feelings about suicide. If you find yourself unable to give them an educated response, tell them you'd like to research the answer and get back to them. And if they reveal to you that they have felt suicidal or hopeless, it is important to be concerned, but not to overreact. If your reaction is too strong, it might frighten the child into believing they cannot come to you if they are feeling that way again.

Here are some warning signs for suicide based on the society's FACTS acronym.

Feelings – hopelessness, worthlessness, feeling anxious, worried or angry most of the time.

Actions – taking risks, withdrawing from activities that once brought them joy, or talking about death or suicide.

Changes – if you notice a drastic change in your child's behavior, sleep schedule or eating habits that might be cause for concern.

Threats – if you hear your child saying things like they wish they were dead or they feel like life isn't worth living. A warning sign might also be if the child has obtained a stash of pills or a weapon or has begun to give away their favorite things.

Situations – if the child has recently gone through a traumatic experience like the death of a parent, a divorce, or has been in trouble with the law.

If you sense that your child might be exhibiting some of these warning signs, make an appointment with a mental health professional or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Back To Top

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