This being suicide awareness month, I just finished watching a Gathr at Home film - Tell My Story. In this film a father whose son died by suicide shares his journey of grief, understanding and bringing together information about why suicide continues to increase in causes of death, especially in children 12-24. And most importantly, what can parents do to prevent these tragedies.
Many parents I have met in past 19 years have blamed themselves for their child's suicide. They all believe that they could have done something. Maybe that is true. Maybe there are some things we can do as parents that would allow our children to know that their life is worth living and that the pain they feel can be talked about.
Being a parent whose child died by suicide, it was hard to watch this film and yet, it also brought forth information about what parents can do to be more supportive for their kids when they are hurting. I realized I could have done better with my son. My son, like many kids who suffer from depression, become very good at hiding his true feelings. As he got older, he turned to alcohol to deaden the feelings. I tried to connect with him, but I really didn't know how and was often afraid to see him feeling so bad and I didn't know how to make it better for him.
So often the reason a child doesn't tell their parent about how they feel is because the parent hasn't allowed such feelings to be talked about. Some parents, like the father in the film, worked hard to show his kids that he always had life together and never let them see that things could overwhelm him. What parent doesn't like to see their child sad or depressed, and yet wishing it so, doesn't allow for the reality of what the child does feel. It's a parent's belief that they should be able to fix what
is wrong so their kids will be happy, but what this truly implies is that the child is broken if he/she needs fixing. Feeling broken can only add to their despair. Most children work hard to hide anything that they think will disappoint their parent, or be the cause of any worry. And so they cover up, put on their happy face and pretend that all is well. Kids will also hide it from their friends, leaving them with no one to talk to for support. At the time of my son's death, none of his friends suspected that he had been feeling depressed. They all saw him as very happy and outgoing.
We need to be okay being with feelings that aren't the happy feelings so that our kids will feel safe telling us exactly how they feel. One idea for getting your child to tell you about their feelings that I received from watching this film is to let your child know that you are willing to talk.
You can just say, " 7 words" and give them 7 words- angry, sad, alone, lonely, shame, misunderstood, scared. Ask them, "Which word do you connect with in this moment?" When we aren't afraid to go there, and are willing to let them say it, we can be there to listen and to let it come out into the light. By our very willingness, we can remove the stigma about talking about it. It gets the conversation going. We can let them know that we too have had these feelings, or that we don't know what that feels like but want to be there for them, without the need to fix it. This is a way that we as parents can evolve. We can begin to acknowledge our own feelings, not as right or wrong, but just willing to be with them. We can become better listeners, be more present and aware of what our children are feeling.
Moodiness is not normal
We as parents, will do ourselves and our children better service if we listen and trust our hearts, guts, and what we know and not fall into the trap of wanting to explain a child's depression or moodiness as normal. I recall that I fell into that trap, even though I knew that wasn't the case. My child was suffering and he felt too embarrassed to let anyone see his pain. I allowed other people to tell me that I needn't be concerned.
Do You Love Yourself?
Another point that really hit home for myself as well as for how I have parented my children is the concept and value of loving ourselves. Growing up I was never asked or encouraged to have self love, or even what that would look like. It just wasn't talked about. I knew the greatest commandment was "To love your neighbor" but not much focus (if any) was given the most vital part of that commandment -"as you love yourself." Have you asked your child if they love their own self. Do they see the value of their life, not through your eyes, but through their own? This will give a parent pertinent information about how their views their own self.
Is Social Media Killing Our Children?
My last point that I would like to share is that every parent should be aware of the impact that social media has on children/teens. The number of kids ages 8-20 that call in to suicide hotlines has increased dramatically in the last few years. Kids are struggling to meet the pressures that social media places on them to measure up, take in the judgments that come from comments, keep track of how many likes, and keeps them from using their time in more creative ways. There are numerous reports on the affects that occur to the brain as well as to the developing psyche of children. Check it out and ask yourself if it is worth the risk. Thinking that it could never happen to you or your child is not a guarantee. I never thought my life would be touched by suicide in the ways that it has.
If we take steps as parents, we have a much better chance at being able to be there for our kids by being more present, better listeners and letting go of the need to fix things. We can encourage our kids to love themselves, as we show them the way. Maybe we even need to learn together how we do that. We can connect in ways that do support one another. I won't guarantee that this will mean that suicide won't touch your life, but I know that it will create a greater bond between you and your child in a way that allows your child to know that they are valued and truly cared for. They will know that it is okay to talk about how they feel and even ask for help.
Mary shares her desire to create different possibilities for families and individuals who are looking to live a more conscious and aware lifestyle. BE YOU Parenting is for parents who want to BE all that they truly BE and to allow their kids the same privilege.