Parents, there are many difficult conversations you need to have with your child. No doubt, talking about suicide is somewhere at the top of that list. It’s a conversation that you need to be ready for, though. According to a recent report by the CDC, suicide is now the second leading cause of among teens 14-18 years old. It’s not something you can avoid because it’s uncomfortable, and it’s certainly not something you can ignore.
So, how do you talk to your teen about suicide? A simple Google search will yield multiple sources that answer this question, three of which I’ve included at the end of this blog. For today, I would like to share three DOs and three DON’Ts that are based on my experience working with youth for 15+ years.
3 DOs of talking with your teen about suicide:
- DO talk directly. As with any serious discussion you will have with your child, it is best to be straightforward. It is okay to ask your teen if they have had thoughts of suicide or killing themselves. If they admit they have, it’s okay to ask if they have a plan to do it. It may be uncomfortable to ask so directly, but your willingness to discuss it just might be the safe space they need to open up!
- DO keep calm and curious. One big reason that teens do not talk to their parents about suicidal thoughts is because they fear the reaction. This is an emotional topic to discuss, and your child needs to know that you can bear that emotional load. Be open to sharing your emotions as you talk but show your child that the focus is their emotions and their thoughts. Utilize curiosity to ask the tough questions that they may be struggling to say out loud.
- DO take it seriously. If your child admits to having suicidal thoughts, it’s a good measure to apply the “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” principal. By all means, hope for the best for your child, and show them that you believe they will get through this! Remember that you also play a part in their success. Offer to seek out counseling for them. Increase the safety of your home by decreasing access to things like firearms and medication. Be willing to consider personal and family dynamics that may be causing your child distress. Take what they say seriously, and show you are committed to being part of their support system.
3 DON’Ts of discussing suicide with your teen:
- DON’T minimize or invalidate what they say. No one wants to hear that their child is struggling with suicidal thoughts. In the same vein, no teen who is struggling wants to hear, “Oh, you’ll be okay,” or “You don’t really feel like that, do you?” These comments communicate that you don’t believe them or that you don’t want to deal with these heavy feelings. Validate their feelings and show that you are ready to listen: “That sounds like such a hard place to be! Can you tell me more about what you’re feeling right now?”
- DON’T make it about you. As much as possible, avoid comments like, “If you do this, you’ll break my heart,” or “Did I do something to make you feel this way?” Your feelings about the situation are valid, but they need to take a backseat right now to what your child is going through. Allow them the space and the respect to talk with you about their thoughts and feelings. And if needed, seek out your own counseling so YOU have a safe space to work through YOUR emotions.
- DON’T feel that you need to have all the answers. If there is one thing I know about working with youth, it’s that honesty goes a LONG way with them. If they are asking questions you don’t know the answer to, be honest with them! Tell them you don’t know, and then communicate that you’re willing to work with them to find the answers. Your child needs to know that you are an ally, not that you’re an expert. The willingness to press into the hard questions will speak volumes, I promise!
PARENTS, WE ARE HERE FOR YOU.
Parents, this is a rough subject to consider on your own. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone! At Heartland Therapy Connection, we are dedicated to helping people of all ages process through the difficult struggle of suicidal ideation. Our therapists are ready to work with you as parents, your children, and the family unit as a whole in order to find the hope to get through this. Don’t hesitate to call us today at (816) 287-0252 to schedule an appointment. We hope to hear from you soon!