How to Respond if Your Child Threatens Suicide

It often seem to adults, who are so removed from childhood, that youths have little to worry about since they have yet to encounter the complexities of adulthood. Because of the largely false thought that children’s lives are filled with nothing but leisure and relaxation, it can be difficult for adults to understand how children could find themselves substantially stressed -- even pushed to the point of contemplating suicide. In actuality, children can and do feel stresses that push them to take severe and irreversible actions. If a child conveys to you that she is considering suicide, your reaction could play a part in determining how she proceeds.

React quickly. Don’t allow any time to pass between the child making the threat and you responding to it. If you fail to respond rapidly, you can make the child feel as if you aren’t taking her threat seriously or inadvertently send the message that you aren’t acutely concerned for her well-being. If you need time to collect yourself after hearing this upsetting pronouncement, take several minutes to collect your thoughts before proceeding but no more.

Speak to the child about the source of her upset. In many cases, when a child directly tells you she is thinking about suicide, she is begging for love and support. Provide her this support by inquiring as to why she is so dismayed. Listen as she speaks, taking in exactly what she is saying. Even if you feel that the reasons for her upset aren’t sufficient to cause the degree of mental stress she describes, keep this feeling to yourself because telling her she is over-reacting will make her feel that you aren’t supportive.

Take a supportive, not a judgmental, stance. It is common for adults to react in anger if children for whom they care state that they are considering suicide; it can seem like the child is saying that the adult has not provided support. Don’t allow yourself to be swept up in feelings of guilt or to feel as if the child’s admission is tantamount to a condemnation of your child-rearing skills. Instead, focus on the issue at hand -- the child’s mental health -- and provide the adult guidance she likely needs. Reassure her that her feelings will change for the better.

Supervise the youth closely. After a child has admitted that she is considering suicide, you should not leave her unmonitored regardless of whether you believe she would follow through with the threat. Keeping a close eye on the child is the only way that you can truly prevent her from acting on whatever feelings she may be having. Doing this may mean adjusting your work schedule or seeking help from family members, but the severity of the ramifications for failure to do so makes these steps necessary.

Contact a mental health professional, either at the child's school or in the community 1. Regardless of how well-intentioned you may be, suicidal thoughts are too serious for you to deal with on your own. Seek out a trained professional to help the child work through her issues. This individual will be able to provide proven and effective support while serving as an outside source of insight on the issues at hand. Because mental health professionals receive specialized training in mental health issues, including thoughts of suicide, the professional you speak to will be better able to select the appropriate next steps.