Stereotypical youth suicides occur in the teenage years, but pre-teens are also vulnerable. In 2018, suicide was the second leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14 in the United States. It’s important for parents to be prepared to discuss suicidal ideation with preteens as well as older adolescents.
When very young children bring up the topic of suicide, it’s not always clear what they are thinking. According to parenting expert Deborah Gilboa, “With any scary topic, we are going to give short, true answers and see if the child asks follow-up questions,”. These follow-up questions may help us have a clearer idea of exactly what they are asking. This can help us answer truthfully without giving them more information than they want or need.
When children become pre-teens (aged 9-13), answers should be concrete and should include information on warning signs of suicide, according to Gilboa.
Don’t assume that asking questions means your child is dealing with suicidal ideation, but also don’t assume that it doesn’t. It could be that your child is worried about a friend, or has heard about an acquaintance who committed suicide. However, it could also be that your child is dealing with thoughts of suicide. It’s important to listen closely and not jump to conclusions until you can determine what is behind your child’s conversation.
If you feel that your child is suffering from suicidal ideation, or if you are unsure but concerned, contact your pediatrician and ask for a mental health referral. If your child expresses a desire to die, admits to feelings of hopelessness or is seeking information on means and method of committing suicide, seek emergency help immediately.
For more information about warning signs of suicide, visit Warning Signs for Suicide | Suicide Prevention Resource Center (sprc.org).
Suicide Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
For Deaf or Hearing-Impaired TTY Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255.