She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
I need your help.
My son’s teacher sent me an email with his homework attached. In his homework, he had written that he wanted to kill himself. I was shocked. (Also, surprised the teacher did not call me but just sent the email.)
I asked him about it, and he told me he had been thinking about killing himself because he was being bullied at school and no one listened to him or did anything about it.
It breaks my heart to see my boy in so much pain already.
What should I do?
My heart goes out to you and your child, both as a parent and as a kid who often struggled with suicidal thoughts and ideation.
It can be confounding to know how to proceed, even if we as adults are well-acquainted with depression and have had feelings of wanting to harm ourselves. The good news is that he is reaching out, letting you know and see how he is feeling.
The first thing I want to say is that any time a child starts talking about suicide or self-harm, it should be taken seriously. Yes, they may be looking for attention from you. But, isn’t that enough to warrant paying attention?
I am not a therapist, psychiatrist, or medical professional. And, I 100% believe that seeking the advice of one is warranted. What I can give you is advice based on my experience.
When someone, regardless of age, brings up suicide, they are asking for help. They are reaching out. Our human obligation — be that as a friend, parent, family member, or even acquaintance — is first and foremost to listen.
When someone is in that level of emotional pain, especially as a child, they want to be heard, to be acknowledged, to know they are not alone.
Find a child therapist and/or psychologist as soon as possible. If you like your kid’s pediatrician, that’s a good place to start. They can likely recommend someone who is well-trusted and experienced. It can also help to reach out to fellow parents. This issue is more common than we know because it’s not brought up in casual conversation often.
If you have experience dealing with your own depression or thoughts of self-harm or suicide, engage your child in some open conversation. I would not go into any specifics, both because that can have the opposite effect and because your child is young.
The important part of that discussion is letting them know they are not damaged or broken for having these thoughts. Again, they are not alone in this.
Lastly, you need to deal with the problem at school. I would immediately ask for a meeting with both your child’s teacher and the principal of the school. They need to be in the loop with what is going on with your son, and even more importantly, the bullying needs to be addressed immediately.
Below are a few resources for parents:
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s Resources Related to Children Ages 12 and Younger
- Youth Suicide Warning Signs
- Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide
* If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
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