Helping all children become happy learners
How do you react when your child says they want to die?
Many children may say things like 'I wish I was dead' without really meaning they want to be dead. This article is intended for parents of these children. This is not an article about suicide or for parents managing young people with serious suicidal thoughts. You should seek professional help if your child displays behaviour indicating a real intention to end their life. This would include any form of planning or preparation for suicide. If urgent contact the emergency services.
I hate my life. My life's not worth living. I wish I dead.
These are words every parent never wants to hear. It is naturally very distressing to see your child or adolescent unhappy but it is important to remember that most children say these things at some time. For the majority of these children these words are just their way of communicating their struggle to manage the negative thoughts and emotions they experience as they process life experiences. It is rare that this lack of self-worth leads to anything more alarming. However, supporting your child to manage these negative thoughts is an important life skill and helps them to build emotional resilience.
Negative thoughts and emotions can be helpful in processing things that make us unhappy particularly when we can not control or do anything about it. It is the first stage in learning to accept things, ignore or at least move on. It becomes a problem when you can't escape these negative thoughts and are unable to move forward.
Sometimes your child may feel overwhelmed by a number of different worries and anxieties. Helping your child to work through and rationalise these worries can reduce the emotional burden of them. Help your child to sort worries into things they should ignore and things that they can do something about. Consider using an anxiety behaviour sort sheet to work through your child's concerns.
Acknowledge their Feelings
It is important to acknowledge your child's negative feelings and frustrations. Sometimes just accepting that they are feeling unhappy is enough for your child to feel listened to, valued and accepted. This is important for developing their resilience.
'I can see that you are feeling really unhappy right now. What can I do to help?'
It's OK to be unhappy
It is important that negative emotions and thoughts are 'normalised'. Reassure your child that it is totally OK to feel sad when they have upsetting experiences. Your child needs to know that they are not alone in being unhappy; that they are not odd or different; or somehow 'broken'.
Focus on the positives
Once you have acknowledged their unhappiness and if possible explored the cause of it; it can then be helpful to remind your child of things that are good in their lives. This has to be done carefully so that the child isn't made to feel ungrateful or in any way failing to make the most of the positives in their life.
Life is not always happy and we all have to learn to deal with the ups and downs. How we deal with these as parents will shape the way our children deal with negative experiences. We often try to shield children from our own worries and sadness. Though you don't want to burden your child with these negative experiences it perhaps takes away an opportunity for them to learn from our own positive ways of dealing with these emotions and thoughts. It is therefore worth considering how you deal with things yourself and what lessons about this your child is picking up.
Resilient individuals cope better with negative experiences and move quickly on from negative thoughts and experiences. A range of factors contribute towards resilience and include a sense of belonging to a community; experience of overcoming challenges; success after failure; positive thinking; self-esteem and friendships.
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