Kids Talking about Killing Themselves
Berkeley Parents Network >
School-aged Kids >
Kids Talking about Killing Themselves
or ''I want to blow up this house'' or ''I will push (3 year
old brother) off a cliff'' or ''I hate you''.....
These statements come from our 5 year old son. He starts
these rants almost always at night some time after 8pm.
It is not every night but even once in awhile is starting
to freak us out. At first we acted very shocked, then we
moved to frustration and anger. Finally, we decided to
ignore these statements to avoid any interest in just
getting a rise out of us. But still the statements
continue. We have definitely decided he is over tired.
Does anyone have any experience with a dramatic child?
Should we seek professional help for our child or is he
just acting out in the most shocking way he can think of?
He is a sensitive kid, always has been. He is also very
verbal, thinks very hard about things, and reads or
listens to just about anything.
My older son was about six when he started to say that. I
was at a loss on how to deal with it, and at the time I was
reading 1-2-3 magic series. In it, they describe a similar
situation. I read the section to my kids, and for one
reason or another my son stopped saying it and hasn't said
it again. It may sound strange, but trying something like
that from a neutral party might be worth a try.
Been then, went through that.
My daughter (7 yo)said this but to her teacher. As you can
imagine the teacher was very worried and called us in. We
took her to therapy and the therapist assessed her, said she
didn't think it was a serious risk. The therapist helped her
change her language to more appropriate ways of expression
but it also turned out that a girl was bullying my daughter
and it was more upsetting than we realized so we also
addressed that. Also we realized the few times after she
made statements like that at home it was when she was
overtired so we got her to bed earlier and cut down on sugar
consumption. My daughter has a very sensitive, perceptive
temperament so I need to really pay attention to all the
things that can be making a difference in her emotional
life. She hasn't made those statement in months, seems much
happier, and has made new friends. All in all, taking it
seriously and following up made this a growth experience for
all of us.
I'm gonna be (probably) unpopular here and suggest that you do not go
the medication route. Antidepressants have very little to no efficacy in
children and the adverse reactions can have horrible consequences and
most often lead to worse diagnoses and eventually a lifetime of disability
for the child. I find that Berkeley Parents Network in general has a very
pro-psychiatry bent, which has often led me consider discontinuing my
subscription. That is not that I think people are biased, per se, many
times they are speaking to their own experience. Well, there's a huge
percentage of people who have very negative experiences with psychiatry,
too, and I would caution you to look adequately at the risks before making
that decison. Google ''study 329'' if you want an idea of some of the
nefarious stuff psychiatry has done in regards to children.
Please address his diet, have comprehensive lab testing done on him, and
talk to him about what's going on before you take him to a psychiatrist.
The results of taking him to a psychiatrist could potentially be disastrous. I
know that sounds dramatic, but it's true. I also believe counseling with the
right person could be beneficial, but it would probably be good to find
someone willing to diagnose him with something minor like ''adjustment
disorder'' (your insurance is always billed with a diagnostic code) to
prevent problems/discrimination later in life.
Believe me, seeing a psychiatrist is, without a doubt, the single biggest
mistake I've made in my life. I'm not saying it will be a disaster for your
son, but just proceed with caution, and try every other possibility first.
I'd think it helpful to get professional input - your child
may or may not be intending to cause harm. It might simply
be an expression of some other issue. Psychotherapists who
specialize in working with children - and their parents -
are specifically trained to sort out these complex issues in
the absence of direct verbal skills in a child.
Let us know if you need a few names of such professionals.
At around the same age as your son, my daughter started
saying she wanted to kill herself, or shoot herself, or go
to sleep and never wake up, etc. It was shocking to hear
and I had no idea how to respond or what to say. I too
noticed that these outbursts occurred when she was over-
tired. And she has a little brother who is nearly four
years younger. We consulted a psychologist because she was
also having behavioral problems at school (nothing major,
but consistent). The psych told us the appropriate response
was to say ''Mommy's job is to keep you safe and make sure
nothing bad happens to you,'' and leave it at that. She
viewed it as a way to get attention and manipulate our
emotions (because she got the reaction she wanted). After
saying the magic words a couple times, she stopped doing
it. To a lot of the drama that she dishes out on a regular
basis, the psych told me to say, ''I'm sorry you feel that
way. That must be difficult.'' And then remove yourself
from the conversation/room if necessary. It felt a
little ''Mommy Dearest'' at first, but I have to say, it is
helping. Good luck.
I wonder if your son would respond to acknowledgment that
he's feeling angry, upset, disappointed, tired. Often when
I want to ''correct'' strong statements that my children make,
I will just reflect to them how I think they're feeling:
''you sound really angry...'' You might also ask what he's
feeling when he makes these statements and train him to
identify the feeling rather than what he'd like to do with it.
Mom of two boys
Please take your son's statements very seriously. They are
not normal, and unfortunately, 5-yo children do try to kill
themselves. Not knowing more about your son's behavior,
it's hard to say what's going on, but I'd consult with
everyone -- developmental pediatrician, child psychiatrist,
child psychologist. I'd also make sure your younger child is
safe and does not spend any unsupervised time with your
When my son was 5-yo he made similar statements (accompanied
by uncontrollable rages and destructive behavior) and ended
up being diagnosed with pediatric bipolar disorder. We've
had a very long journey (almost 20 ''top-notch''
psychologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychiatrists and other
therapists and specialists), including 3 hospitalizations in
the children's mental health wing at John Muir in Concord
(excellent facility, at least as of 4 yrs ago.) Mostly,
though, I've had to be the researcher/advocate for my child.
A few resources I found very helpful: www.bpkids.org
(invaluable online community of parents of bipolar kids with
tons of info., resources, etc.), ''The Bipolar Child'' by
Demetri Papolos, NAMI (National Alliance for Mental
Illness), and a local parents support group (found through
NAMI and bpkids.)
Hopefully your son isn't bipolar, but even if he isn't, he
probably is suffering from a mood disorder. Before heading
down the path of traditional psychiatric drugs (been there,
done that -- they use the same medications for children as
they do for adults), do yourself and your son a favor and
investigate EMPower Plus vitamin supplements,
www.truehope.com. Don't be too quick to dismiss EMPower
Plus. An esteemed child psychiatrist/psychopharmacologist
at Harvard/Mass General (Dr. Charles Popper) now regularly
uses them in his practice. I wish I had started there --
would have saved my son a lot of instability and side
effects. Also, my son's current psychiatrist -- Dr. Scott
Shannon in Fort Collins Colorado -- believes in a natural
approach to treating childhood mental illnesses. He only
requires an initial visit in person, then does followup by
telephone. He can be found on Google.
Good luck and please take your son's statements seriously.
They are a symptom of a serious mood disorder and are
probably not something that he'll ''grow out of'' without some
Sounds like your child is angry, frustrated and overtired.
Most likely he is using these statements as metaphores to
exress these feelings. They do not have the same meaning to
him as they have to you. The best stratagies would be to
focus on the feelings and help your child find different
language to express them. You might say for expample, ''You
are so frustrated it makes you want to just disapear.'' Or,
''You are so angry with your brother right now.'' Or ''you are
so mad at the whole family it feels like a big explotion
inside of you.''
When people have large, overwhelming feelings it is common
to want to pass them on to someone else. By using extreme
language your son may be trying to get you to feel his
feelings so he is not alone with them. By using reflective
language you hand the feelings back to him in a way that
says he is not alone and the feelings, while uncomfortable,
are tolerable and understandable.
Of course it is not a good idea to ignore suicidal language.
Later, when you are both calm and no one is overtired,
maybe the next day, try bringing up the subject again.
''When you were so upset last night you said you wanted to
kill yourself. I wonder what you meant by that. Do you
ever really feel like hurting yourself?'' This is a good
time to bring up your own feelings. ''It really upsets me
when I hear you talk like that. I love you very much. If
you ever really feel like hurting yourself I want you to
tell me so I can help you stay safe. If what you are trying
to tell me is that you are very frustrated I hope you can
find another way to tell me.''
If his responses during these calmer conversations concern
you bring it up with a professional.
Katrinca Ford, MFT
I wasn't going to respond until I saw the post about why you should *not* take
your kid to a psychiatrist. I was a child who struggled with depression and was
frequently suicidal. I really needed to be on antidepressants. I'm not saying
that your child will need this - but please don't rule out possibilities that might
help your child. You don't need to put your kid on medication but research the
options and do the best for your child!
I often thought of suicide, and said to myself that I wanted
to kill myself, or shoot myself, or hurt myself in some way.
I never said it out loud, but thought it up into my 30s. I
don't think I was seriously suicidal, but may have been next
door to it. I WAS, however, EXTREMELY anxious, and any
perceived social misstep would lead to a spiral of violent
A friend's child has a similar issue to the one I had when I
was little, and it has become more or less clear that it is
tied to his fear of bullies at school.
Is something causing your son a lot of social anxiety?
I have a very smart 6 yr old son who excels academically.
Personality wise he is shy around adults or people he doesn't
know, but he is very comfortable and active around his peers.
My issue is that whenever he gets really mad, and that is rare,
he has thoughts of hurting himself. He blames himself for not
being a good boy and one time he was telling his grandma that
he wants to die because he was so mad when his brother broke
his lego toy. I'm worried that if we don't act now that it
will become worse when he grows up and his frustrations are
much worse. We try to reassure him everyday that he is a good
boy and work on his self esteem. Is there anyone with a
similar experience or any advice? I tend to do this also when
I get mad and I know that sometimes my demons can get really
really bad. I would hate to see my son suffer through that
same thing. My mother is also the same way. Could it be
genetics? My son has never heard me say those kind of things.
I really want to help him, I hope someone can share something
or point me to the right direction at least.
i thought i would respond with my own experience & sympathize
with yours, it must be very hard to hear your son say those
things, as a mother, it must just be heartbreaking.
when i was 5 or 6 school officials 'diagnosed' me with
depression. it was a couple years post-divorce for my parents
& i was struggling. i don't remember any of it.
i was a very happy, smiley, social child on the outside, but
inside i was terribly afflicted by the sadness & sense of
responsibiliy i felt.
overall over the next 7 or 8 years it went away, then i hit
teen years & it came back, this time with suicidal thoughts &
tendencies, cutting my wrists, etc. finally, at my school's
demand, i had to tell my mom about these thoughts & attempts.
she wept. it was the hardest thing i had to do, i was in 8th
i look back now & i see clearly, that a huge part of the issue
was i couldn't express what i needed. obviously at 6 i needed
reassurance & stability, when i was in 8th grade, i needed
attention & independance from my older sister, i needed
identity. i also see that in both instances, i wanted to
escape, i had learned escaping to be a valid way to deal with
crisis- i learned this without words, but in actions, i learned
this from my mother.
so, what i would offer in advice is probably seek therapy, for
yourself, for your son. you may have never let your demons out
in front of him, but children are sensitive beings (he was in
your belly for 9 months!) i am sure he has picked up on it...
what he needs to learn now is how to cope, how to express
himself, how to express his emotions of fear, anger, hurt,
sadness. you might need to be a good example & learn some of
these things too. every human is prone to feel these, a huge
lesson is to learn, to teach him coping mechanisms (something
only a good therapist or communcation book can help you with).
so as he grows up & these emotions become more intense (esp in
teen years, when the hormones are all crazy) you have a son who
has learned to ask for help, to share his feelings in a
positive way. so hopefully, you never have to endure what my
mother had to in that conversation before the bus one
morning... or worse.
good luck & dont waste any time.
So my son has said he wants to be ''dead in the cemetary'' for 2
years now since he was 5 years old. He believes he is worthless
and un-deserving of being alive. One time in his life he told a
lie so he does not deserve to live. He is dumb, ugly, fat. In
actuality he is the sweetest, kindest, most caring and self-less
person anyone has ever met as well as quite handsome and does not
have any fat at all. He does not get this at home or from the
media - he has a very kind supportive family and VERY LITTLE TV
or movies. How can this happen? I'm worried that he has not
''grown out of it'' as Kaiser said he would and he is now old
enough to actually figure out how to take some action. Has anyone
ever heard of a very young child being this down?? Can kids this
young take anti-depressants?
not in denial anymore
My child has expressed the wish to kill himself several times
also. For him, it was attached to very long-term frustration
with social interactions. He's a bit ADHD-ish and sometimes the
ADHD kids have an almost Aspberger's-like lack of social
intuition and comfort. My child, despite four years of my 100%
work on this (and proximity, and carefulness, and social skills
class and importing playdates, and supportive coaching on
playground techniques), still has a tendency to shoot himself in
the foot socially. I don't know why and we're working on it,
but he tends to be mean to kids who try to bond with him. (When
That's his problem and at various points in his life, he has
been depressed about it and has talked of killing himself.
Last year, for the last two months of school, it turned out that
he has a learning disability and he couldn't write anything at
all. His teacher didn't pick up on it very well. During this
time, he felt terrible and talked of killing himself. (We moved
schools and worked on this all summer. Things are getting
Please look into what might be frustrating your child or giving
him such negative self-esteem. Does he have an undiagnosed
learning disability? Does he have social issues? Have you
gotten a divorce? Does he have a caregiver that he's had since
that time and do you know what goes on when you're not there?
Finally, I would make sure that you did a full workup on him:
Visual, hearing, and so forth. We have had someone work with my
son physically (www.anatbanielmethod.com) and it has been
wonderful for him. It has calmed him and helped him immensely.
One of the things to remember -- and really, seriously, not to
discount, is the role of movement in young children's brain
development. This is an area that is amazingly ignored by
neurologists and psychiatrists. They tend to pawn the entire
''movement'' thing off on technician-type occupational therapists
(many of whom are wonderfully experienced, but who are not
trained to tell you how different movement problems map to brain
Here is my occupational therapy research page. I would
seriously give him a movement test in addition to everything
else. And good luck.
My kid isn't so depressed any more in a different school
I'm sorry to hear about your son's wishes to be dead. This must
be so hard for you. Two years is a long time in a child's life
and feelings of worthlessness are a classic sign of a depressive,
or mood, disorder. They are biochemical and often genetic. Please
take it seriously and demand Kaiser see him. And get a second
opinion if the first one doesn't feel right to you or if they
don't take it seriously. I hope he isn't engaging in any
dangerous behaviors--I'm sure you're watching him closely. Good luck.
a psychologist and mom
This is actually a somewhat common occurrence in children, though
it can be unnerving to parents and it could very well be a
concern. Having a good psychologist or child therapist can help
with this. There are a variety of professionals available and the
advice can be as varied as the professional. Feel free to call on
me (I'm a psychologist with a child specialty), or ask a friend
for a recommendation. May your child be well and happy.
If this isn't coming from home or from the media, then it must be
coming from school. I have worked with kids who get bullied at
school and it definitely can lead to depression and negative
thoughts of oneself. The bullying could be coming from girls or
boys. I would talk with his school's Counselor or Psychologist -
they are great resources for your child and you. Best wishes to
you and your son.
First, how is his diet? At 6, I told my shocked mom I wanted to
die. She discovered that Gramps had loaded me with sugar and
foods with red-food-coloring in them (my body doesn't deal well
with these things). I have always had sugar crashes, and have to
watch it. Start here with a balance of whole foods, not
boxed/packaged foods. Include fermented foods
(yogurt/kefir/kombucha) to recolonize his gut.
Next, this is just an idea. Let him know that every human has a
purpose and is here for some reason, otherwise they would not
have been born. Let him know that sometimes it takes a really
long time to figure out what one's purpose is, and wouldn't it be
sad if he never had the chance to figure that out? There's
something important for him to do, but he has to grow up and
figure it out along the way. It's an exciting adventure. No one
is born just to go be dead in a cemetery. This may not fix
anything, I don't know. But it gives him a different perspective,
and reminds him that it's not possible to exist and be worthless.
Everyone has a role to play, even if they haven't figured it out yet.
Psychiatrist now. I first tried to kill myself at about 9, I
think. Depression runs in our family. At 21, I went on
medication and have been on it ever since, almost 30 years. My
life has been much happier since the chemical imbalance has
been corrected. I also worked with standard therapy for a
number of years and usually doctors won't put you on medication
without accompanying therapy. Your son sounds like a lovely
little boy and I am sure you want him to have the most normal
life possible. Don't look on therapy or medication as a
negative thing. They really can make people feel much better.
Not Depressed Anymore
I'm neither a therapist nor a parent, but I did experience
serious depression as a child, which has continued into my
adulthood. What you relate sets off alarm bells for me, and I'm
rather shocked at the pediatrician's response. I don't know a
good therapist to recommend, but do get your child in to see one,
and trust your gut about whether or not the therapist seems to
''get'' what is going on with your child.
No one fully understands depression, but it certainly has a large
physical component. Your description suggests you have an
extremely sensitive child who may be vulnerable to it, so the
trigger may not have been anything in your parenting style.
Other steps you can take: check with your doctor re giving your
child fish oil supplements and B vitamins; there are studies that
indicate they can help. Also, see about getting him into sports
that will give him a lot of exercise, perhaps soccer or martial
arts? And see if you get him into some sort of vigorous
dancing--Dance Revolution is good to practice at home, but maybe
there are classes. What you want to do is help him create an
environment where he has less time to brood about feeling
worthless, and increase his feelings of joy and participation in
If these steps don't help, the question of antidepressants may
need to be explored. In that case, he should also see a topnotch
child psychiatrist--look for someone affiliated with UCSF or
Stanford who is up on the very latest research. Pay out of
pocket if you have to. I'm an adult, and antidepressants have
made all the difference for me, but I do know there are concerns
about their safety for children, who may process them
differently. If they are prescribed, do research whether or not
you feel they are appropriate. Be just as careful with
alternatives like St. John's Wort, if you go that route. Some
people will tell you psychiatric/western medicine is always bad,
but it can be a lifesaver when it comes to depression.
Take him immediately to a psychiatrist to see if he needs help,
or whether he has just discovered your Achilles' heel, because
either he needs help or you do.
mom of boys
The short answer to your question is yes, children that young are
sometimes placed on antidepressants but it is not the best place
to start. Please take your son to a therapist who specializes in
work with young children. He needs a thorough assessment to
understand why his self-esteem is so low. Antidepressants may be
a part of the treatment answer but your son will likely need the
ongoing support of a therapist to begin to build a sense of self
that reflects the wonderful and lovable person you know him to
be. You and the rest of your family may also benefit from
support. This has probably been a difficult two years for all of
Please take your child to a therapist and perhaps go too. Your
child sounds depressed. I know this is scary but I had lovely
cousin who said he wanted to kill himself from a very young age,
and eventually did at 30 despite great professional success.
Why does he feel he is worthless. As a parent I often learn
I'm unaware of how my actions affect my child. Maybe this is
true for your family. Maybe he is misinterpreting something.
But I would take this seriously and nip this low self esteem and
talking about being dead in the bud, by getting professional help.
Best of luck,
My child isn't the best socially. He's very attractive, very
compelling, but has a hard time in social situations. A little
show to develop. His teachers tell me that he's bright and we
know that he's very creative. He is an only child, and is 6.5.
We are in our forties. We have no neighbors to speak of and have
to schedule playdates.
Today at a playdate at the park, he went to go over and hang out
with the older kids, some teenagers. We eventually set up a
stomp rocket, and he took turns with his friend and his friend's
little sister, over by the big kids.
At one point I looked over to see him walking off, shoulders
slumping in the ''feel sorry for me'' position. He climbed a tree,
walked back into the circle of older kids, and said something to
the girl, who looked back at me in a ''ooh'' surprised fashion. He
then walked back out, and I called him over. ''What did you say?''
I asked. ''Oh, just that I want to kill myself.'' he said.
OK. I lost it. I left the stomp rocket there with the friends,
brought him home, yelled at him en route (sample: ''You do not
say things like that. That is one of the worst, the most awful
things that you could ever say in the world.''), and sent him to
bed with no dinner. I have to say that I'm floored. My son told
me that he thought that if he said that the girl would feel sorry
for him. My husband says that he is only six and didn't
understand what it meant. Yes, but ... he just said he wanted to
kill himself, which I have learned is a huge red flag.
My father was an actor and my child is a bit of a drama queen.
But still, I could use some advice. Got any? thanks.
frustrated, concerned mom
It can be hard being a mom, can't it? We all make mistakes, and learn
The great thing is that we can try again.
You made a big mistake. When your son said he wanted to kill himself, he
telling you how he was feeling inside. Because he is six, he does not
cognitive or linguistic ability to say, ''Boy! I sure was feeling left
out and frustrated.
Can you brainstorm with me some strategies that I might use the next time
feeling this way?'' Your reaction (yelling at him and sending him to bed
dinner) did not help him deal with the emotion he was feeling; it simply
know that he is not to share his feelings with you, because he will be
he can only share happy feelings with you, but not painful ones.
Next time, give him the language he needs to express his feelings. Label
feelings for him. For example, tell him, ''You must be feeling so hurt
There is a great book that really helps parents find the language to talk
to kids, and
really helps parents understand what kids are saying. It is called, ''How
to talk to
kids will listen, and how to listen so kids will talk.'' It has great
advice on how to
discuss feelings, or how to respond to statements like your son's.
Your son scared you, and you found what he said to be not acceptable.
have happened if you had simply given him a hug and said, ''You sound
Would he have elaborated and told you what he was really feeling? Or
have come up with his own solution of how to deal with the situation?
served only to make him feel bad about himself and let him know that his
are ''bad'' or ''wrong.'' In fact, his feelings are totally normal!
Read the book. It helps.
Good luck! We all need it!
mom of sensitive kids, too
My 7 year old has said it a few times. Let me add, he is
social, friendly, mature, and has his share of dramatic moments.
I immediatly thought counseling but the hubby prevailed (comes
froma dramatic family). So, I talked alot with my son. Somehow
he connected dead to going to heaven where all is great. ( I
added to his equation that God does not let you go to heaven if
you kill yourself. Not my true belief but good for the
I also talked to him to get him to describe what he was feeling.
Its when he feels he has done something wrong, or he doesnt like
something about himself. So we talk more about how no one is
perfect. We all make mistakes....Sometimes we may feel sad and
not know why. I think it all regular stuff and a time to learn
new ways to express sad feelings and what to do about it.
You sound like a parent who cares about your son. However, you
should be aware that sending a child to bed without supper, is
considered child abuse. I'm sure you don't routinely withhold
food as punishment, but even doing it occasionally is not
effective discipline, and may cause your child long-term
emotional harm. That said, it is not uncommon for kids to try on
saying things like ''I want to kill myself.'' It would probably be
a good idea to have him be evaluated by a therapist, just in
case; as well as enroll in a parenting course both to learn about
what is typical, and to learn healthy limit setting techniques.
You will probably get lots of responses. If you like to read,
pick up a book on the emotional side of parenting or navigating
emotional topics in general. Raising an Emotionally
Intelligent Child is a good book, and, more generally (not
specific to parenting), the Feeling Good Handbook chapter re
Communication. I doubt your approach will have the intended
consequence with your son (ending the outbursts a/or making
your son feel better about rejection). I remember a section in
The Feeling Good Handbook about a mom and adult son talking and
him indicating life wasn't worth living. The sample answers
are GREAT and really get you thinking (natural tendency was for
mom to say ''that's not true -- you have lots to live for!''
(then mom listing child's positive traits; advice in the end
was to say (assuming true) ''I feel very sad and worried when
you say things like that because I really love you -- is
something bothering you that maybe you haven't shared with me
yet?'') If you don't like to read, consider a therapist. It
would benefit you greatly. I feel terrible for your son going
to bed without dinner. Maybe he just wanted to talk and was
trying to get your attention.
Working on Emotions & Parenting
You must have been so scared to hear your son say that! I know that in
and probable unclear thinking, you berated your son and punished him for
he wanted to kill himself. HOWEVER, THE LAST THING YOU WANT TO DO IS SHUT
DOWN THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION! That is exactly what you just did with
son. Even if he was just saying that for affect, your reaction showed him
sharing his honest feelings (even if just for the moment) will get him a
lashing and punishment. You need to apologize to him for your reaction,
explaining that you were scared/worried about him. Ask him questions
he feels. If you are still worried, get him to a therapist and get some
yourself so you can handle whatever may come next. Best of luck to your
Hi - He probably was just trying to be dramatic and get attention - and
attention is what he got! Of course you need to tell him that is not an
ok thing to
say (I concur with your husband that it is highly doubtful he really
it means) and that if he says it he will have a time out/not be able to
playdate/etc. but I wouldn't do more than that. Of course, if he says a
lot of things
like this or otherwise seems depressed - see your doctor! Last comment -
note says that you sent him to bed without dinner. I can't help but tell
you that it
doesn't ever seem ok to me to withhold food from a child - there are lots
ways to punish that don't involve something the child very much physically
not to mention that he can't possibly think straight or hear what you are
when he is hungry.
My advice would be to approach him warmly instead of
reprimanding him. Your husband could be right- it could be
nothing at all. However, I think that you should establish with
your son early on that you are a safe person to talk to about
emotions. Children experience sadness, depression, suicidal
tendencies, etc. They should have some place and someone that
they know they can say these things to without getting in
My other advice is to discuss with your son how scary ''I want to
kill myself is'' and how it isn't fair to scare the other little
girl. Even though he was trying to make her feel sorry for him,
if she believes him, that can be very upsetting for her. Maybe
that would make sense to your son. You might also want to focus
on how you really don't want him to try and manipulate other
people's emotions. It sounds like that is what he was trying to
But mostly- the first thing. Don't scare him away from talking
to you. He was honest in the tree about what he said to the
girl. Next time, he might not be.
Good luck- I know it is tough to hear. My son said the same
thing... well, I want to die, when he was 4 or so. I knew it
was to get a rise out of me. That is the part that upset me and
the part I tried to address.
Yes, I see how your son is a drama queen :)! He must get that
from grandpa, even though it skips a generation! :) No,
seriously. If you are considering this a true red flag of
suicide alert, what is the purpose of sending him to his room,
alone, without any dinner? A better reaction would be telling
him what a terrible thing that is to say and asking if something
really was wrong (ie, did he mean it--no, he wanted that girl's
attention)and then why he should never say that because it
scares people. But if he ever really has a problem he can talk
I can understand being surprised by your son saying ''I want to
kill myself''. But I am floored that you ''lost it'', yelled at
your child, and sent him to bed without dinner, for what he
said. Wow. My advice to you is to do some work and exploration
on yourself -- why would your son saying he wanted to kill
himself make you angry and choose to yell at him and punish
him? I could imagine a lot of other responses, ranging from
concern about how he was feeling to a desire to teach him
compassionately about the meaning of the words he used to
curiosity about exactly what he meant when he said it. An
alternative suggestion for how to communicate with your child
around this is the following: He says ''I want to kill myself''.
So you inquire about it, gently, without judgment, without
anger. Ask him why he said it. Ask him if he knows what would
happen if he killed himself. Ask him if he really wants to be
dead(sounds like he doesn't). Help him to think through and
understand the meaning of the words he is using. Explain to him
how terribly sad you would be if he was gone, and that when he
says words like that it makes you sad to think of it. But no
yelling, punishing, telling him its ''one of the worst things he
could say''. If you yell/punish you will only (a) give more
power to those words (b) associate for him the idea that when he
expresses hopelessness that you will be angry/punitive, rather
than helpful/supportive (c) miss an opportunity to teach him and
help him to understand what he is feeling, and what his words
Take a deep breath, from a gentle mom
Have you considered therapy for your son? Dr. Peter August is
wonderful, on Piedmont Ave.
And please consider not yelling at him and telling him what a
horrible thing he said. Don't see how that's productive at all.
Engage him in conversations rather than freaking out yourself.
I think sitting down with him and having a long talk about what
he said and why he said it was the best thing to do. Explain to
him how its inappropriate, how it's dishonest (if it truly was),
and how it makes others feel, including you. Sending him to bed
with no dinner was harsh and excessive, and you over-reacted.
(I don't think any behavior should be punished with denial of
food.) He is only six.
As a child psychologist and a mom of 2 young one's...
I suggest initially responding to dramatic statements first by
asking why he said that, or saying something to the effect
of ''you must have been pretty upset to say something like
that.'' The hopes are to create a dialogue and get some insight
into what he's reacting to, or what's he's needing, while also
getting down to the matter, rather than being side tracked by
the dramatic statement. Then there may be the opportunity to
talk about other more appropriate ways of expression or getting
attention. I do think it's ok to be firm in saying that it's
not the right way to express our selves (threatening ourselves
or others), but the problem with an emotional over reaction by
the parent is that it may inadvertantly reinforce the behavior
(bc he gets quite a reaction when he says something like that!)
and/or it's a missed opportunity to have a good discussion
about what's really going on and how to better handle the given
situation. Alternately, an over reaction might teach a child
never to speak up or confide in a parent, out of fear of their
Young kids often do not have the vocabulary to express how they
feel, and they look for the most dramatic thing they can think
of (or have heard) to express whatever it is they're feeling at
(My suggestions above are of course assuming there is no
history of self-injurious behavior or other mental health
issues. And if a child does mean what they say, then more the
reason not to over react and prod gently into what is going on
so that the child doesn't shut you out out of fear of a big
reaction. If there's a concern that a child of any age means
or might act on such threatening words, then that's a different
matter all together to get some professional consultation on.)
Punishment is DEFINITELY not the way to go. You need to talk to him about
not make it something he will get in trouble for, but something he can
come to you
about. If he shows any signs of seriousness about this, or is having
emotionally, he should see a therapist.
I'm very concerned that you would send your 6.5 year old to bed
without dinner. I did not know that anyone did that anymore.
What good could that possibly do for your son? You have many
responsibilities as a parent, two of which are providing food and
emotional support to your son. It sounds like you provided him
with neither of those things when you were concerned about his
well-being. This is a serious problem. Please take some
parenting classes and/or see a therapist about this. You need
help, and your son may need help, too.
From your reaction, it seems that you're a bit of a drama queen
Might have been better not to dwell on your son's exact words but
to calmly talk it over with him, ask him what just happened with
the stomp rocket and the other kids, and what he was feeling
after what just happened...frustration, disappointment,
rejection, embarrassed, etc. Help him put those feelings into
words. ''Oh, that must have hurt your feelings when the kids were
ignoring you...Yeah, I would have felt that way too...I'm glad
you talked to me about it...'' Then that's it. Don't dwell on it
I have three kids and saying very dramatic things when they
are upset is very common. Kids hear grownups say things like
this all the time. "If my boss says that to me one more time
I swear I'm gonna kill him" or "I could kill myself for
forgetting your birthday again!" It's just an expression.
Kids often mis-use expressions like this. You should assume
that this is how your son was using it unless you have some
reason to believe he really is suicidal. It's not impossible,
but to me it seems highly unlikely he really meant that he
wants to kill himself. I would treat it the same way you'd
treat it if he said "I hate you!" which children also say
a lot to their parents when they are mad. Don't dwell on it,
Hello to the mother of the 6-year old,
First, I will say I feel your pain. I somehow want to be able to protect
my child from
any kind of discomfort, but I guess that's just not possible. I'm a
students K-6 and a mother. I would say that it is not unusual for kids to
with sensationalism. Your son may have been doing just what he said he
He was looking for positive attention from older kids. I would not
punishing him for something that is so natural. As a teacher, I would
discussing calmly with the child the ramifications of saying something
like that and
problem solve with the child to develop some more appropriate ways of
attention and affection from other children. If you have any suspician
that it is
something deeper and more serious than attention-seeking and social
experimentation, I would not hesitate to bounce it off of a school
pediatrician. Compassion, understanding, unconditional love and help with
new skills are in order here.
understanding is key
You know your son the best, but I would be extremely concerned that your
he wanted to kill himself. He's clearly not happy. You sound extremely
him. There doesn't seem a lot of gentleness, in your response to him, or
description of him. A lot of kids are dramatic and say dramatic things.
good thing, not a bad thing. I know a lot of other posters have already
said this, but
scolding your son, and putting him to bed without any food really a good
to a child who is lacking social skills? Wouldn't it be better to get him
practice with social skills? You sound so terrible critical of a six
year old. If he
were your nephew, or a friend's child, would you be this critical? You
sound like you
might have issues with your father, that you are punishing your son for.
help for you son, and get some parenting help for yourself. No child
punished for saying they wanted to kill themselves. If he knew how
statement was and still said it, then punishing him will only keep him
perhaps deadly. If he didn't know how serious the statement was, then you
punished your son for an accident. Either way, it doesn't sound like
good thing. I
agree with you, this is not something to take lightly. Your son may not
want to kill
himself, but it does sound like he's having a tough time.
Very concerned for your son.
My 7 year-old daughter often states that she wants to get a
knife & kill herself, generally when she's been reprimanded
for something. It started about 4 months ago and happens
somewhat sporadically. I've tried to remind her of all the
great things she does and has to offer and have given her some
alternate ways to express herself but she's not quite getting
it. I'm just wondering if this is a phase some kids go through
or warrants a visit to a therapist (any recommendations if
judged the appropriate course?)
My daughter used to say the same thing at that age (altho she
didn't specify her weapon). But she usually brought it up when
she was feeling very upset or sad about something, or perhaps
guilty about having done something wrong (''I might as well kill
myself cuz no one likes me anyway'' kind of thing). As she's
gotten older (she's now 13), she has continued to use it
occasionally, but has even (recently) admitted that she does it
for the shock effect she knows it has on others. We were worried
about it in the beginning and talked to a therapist who knew my
daughter well enough to know she wasn't serious. It can never
hurt to talk to a therapist, but I also think this is something
a lot of kids go thru. (Other friends, altho not all, have had
similar experiences.) They get to an age where they are very
aware of their feelings but not yet very able to accurately
process and articulate them, so things like this come out
instead. Whether or not to really worry depends on several
things: does she seem depressed generally? does she sleep too
much? Not eat much? Not enjoy much? Talk about killing herself a
lot? These are some basic signs of depression and, if exhibited,
should be taken seriously. On the other hand, does she seem like
a happy child generally speaking? Are the ''threats'' incident-
specific and related to her feeling sad, overwhelmed, or guilty
about something? Could it be possible she has already learned
about the shock-value/attention-getting value of the statement?
Again, seeing a therapist can never hurt -- even if you just go
to talk to her/him about the situation initally -- but it sounds
like your daughter is similar to mine (and not serious about
it). Have you tried exploring her feelings when she says these
things? Honestly, I would NOT go straight into the ''don't be
silly, you're a wonderful girl'' kind of response that is always
our first inclination (say those things at other random times).
For whatever reasons, she's feeling lousy at the moment and I
(personally) think it is very important to acknowledge that.
(Not enough people in this world know how to talk well about
negative feelings, so starting at an early age can only help
your daughter to understand and express her feelings as she
matures -- and god knows, it's helpful if she has a handle on it
before adolescence!) And she needs to know that you are willing
to take her bad feelings seriously. Ask her what is making her
feel so blue or angry. Help her label her feelings: ''are you
feeling [insert feeling word]?'' If that's not right, she'll tell
you no, so don't worry about putting ideas into her head. Was
there a specific incident that happened to set her off? Explore
that. Let her know you can understand how
angry/hurt/upset/scared/overwhelmed/whatever it is that she must
be feeling. That everyone can feel overwhelmed by things at
times and say things like ''I want to kill myself.'' But also let
her know (after you've completely acknowledged her feelings)
that even though she's feeling really rotten, you don't think
she really wants to kill herself, and that you have no intention
of letting that happen. That you will take care of her -- and
talking with her is one way of doing that -- because you are her
parent and there to help her. This will also speak -- in an
unspoken way -- to any potiential worries she may have about
feeling out of control enough to have these feelings. Kids want
and need to know that they can count on us as parents to take
care of them.
There is a therapist named Diane Eherensaft (offices near Lake
Merritt) whom we have used several times. She is excellent and
has been very willing to do one-time consultations (which might
be all you need).
Best of luck to you and your daughter.
Please take your child to a therapist ASAP! Even if she is just
trying to get your attention in retaliation for being
reprimanded, she needs to see a professional who can hopefully
assure you that this is the case. And if she is suicidal, you
will need help. The fact that she has chosen a ''means'' ( a
knife), and that it is readily available (kitchen) are factors in
determining a person's risk. I would call suicide hotline for
referrals and advice.
concerned for your child
She noticed how powerful these words are the first time she spoke
them and created a ton of fear in her parents. That has to stop
(at least, you cannot show it whatsoever).
Very evenly, say ''Threatening to kill ourselves is not how we
solve problems in this house. If you need to say you are unhappy
or angry, that's fine.''
Beyond this, I don't know how to actually address the problem.
I don't have a recommendation, but I would call around and ask a
behavior specialist how to handle it. A single session could be
costly but worth it. God forbid your daughter gets pissed off
that you are not afraid of her threats, and goes and finds a
knife. Seems doubtful, but better safe than sorry.
Will you please share with the board whatever methods you learn?
I know of one child in among my circle of friends who would
literally throw herself in the paths of trucks on the street and
into the burning fireplace (I guess among other things). This
child has done well with therapy, and as far as I know (I do not
know the family personally) there are no real reasons for her
suicidal behavior. Given this child's behavior, it is apparent
that even a small child can attempt, if not succeed, at suicide.
It really scares me that your daughter has talked about killing
herself, and continues to do so. I wonder if she's hearing things
from other people about suicide and it troubles her to the extent
that she is fantasizing about acting it out, or if she has other
internal issues. Clearly, you must get professional help right
away. She's trying to tell you something and maybe her only to do
is to contemplate hurting/killing herself. I'm really just
writing to encourage you to get professional help because this
isn't something a lay person should try to handle alone, nor
should you wait as she may be a danger to herself.
First, I am not a therapist, I am a 53 yr old mom and early
childhood educator, and I do not know your daughter. So my
advice is worth excatly what you paid for it. What you're going
through is pretty scary. But from way way out here it sounds
possible that your daugther may understand how this phrase
makes you react. I know that young childrne DO commit suicide
but it seems to usually require extreme pathology and social
circumstances. You may feel that you need to focus on making
her feel worthwhile, and while this may be so, it may be more
that she sees that this as one way to get her needs met. You
might consider does she show other signs of depression or
psychological problems? If so, yes, you want to birng her in to
a wonderful therapist. ALso maybe ask what does she get from
saying this? Any more attention, any different outcomes than if
she hadnt said it? I had psychological problems as a first
grader so I feel veyr senistive to both the not so typical and
the ''typical'' difficultes and strife that is I believe quite
natural to this difficult life passage (rage, some despondency,
shoplifitng, experimenting with lying, etc.) I think the
opening of consciousness at this stage is overwhelming yet
intriguing, confusing and emotionally-destabilizing. That said,
I am also a parent who never punishes but is comfortable saying
I am angry with my child's behavior. e.g. ''I dont like it when
you talk about killing yourself. I love you, it scares me to
think you feel that bad. If you can tell me how we can help you
feel better, I want to know. If you want to hurt my feelings,
you must be very mad at me, or scared or dispapointed about
something I said, and that's okay to feel that too. I may not
be able to change what made you angry, but I can sure listen to
how angry you are.. I get angry too. Everybody gets mad at the
things people do sometimes....'' as a way to deal face to face
with her statement and see what is underneath, but to also
indicate that 1. if there is a depression problem it is serious
and you take it seriously, and 2, anger is fine, it's good to
express it, and it's good to find out what's causing it, and
3. whether or not we go to a therapist or after I listen to all
your angry feelings, that does not mean I will necessarily
change my decision that you so strongly object to--(e.g. you
are not watching that show again or you need to put your socks
in the hamper or you dont hit your brother...or whatever it is.
I think you can cover your bases, by showing how open you are
to accepting and validating all her feelings, and considering
if you should take her to a therpaist, but separating out from
that how your decisions get changed. ''I usually change my mind
about something because someone talks to me about their
feelings, maybe they have a some scary feelings about my
decision or what will happen. Sometimes I will change my mind
because somebody tells me something I never thought of before.
But I dont change my mind because somebody is angry. I need
more information than that. Becasue my decisions are usually
based on lots of pieces of informaiton. If you're angry or
scared (or whatever feeling)about a decision I am making,let's
talk about how we could help you find a way to (cooperate,
understand, participate, cope with...) without being so ...
(afraid, angry, jealous, alone, nervous, feeling left out,
confused, ...whatever she's feeling)
Well that's my freebie advice. Good luck, I know this can feel
very scary when kids talk this way.
when i was 7 years old, i wrote a note that said, dear god
please kill me. what i meant was -- dear god, please kill me.
i don't know about your child. whether it is just a bid for
attention, deep pain, or something else. I would just suggest
that you take into consideration that this could be a legitimate
and deep-felt voice of pain. And that it might be helpful to
seek the help of someone trained to recognize and deal with the
problem. my parents thought they knew what to do. but as smart
as they were, neither they, nor their friends had any idea how
to deal with my situation. I wish my parents they had opened the
way for me to work with someone who could have helped. Not as a
punishment, but as a way to give me a happier life. it might
have made a tremendous difference for me.
My son first put a table knife to his stomach and said, ''If you
don't listen to me, I'm going to kill myself'' at age 3 or 4.
Talk about a cry for attention! By the time he was about age 9
or 10, I called Kaiser Pediatric Psychiatry and asked for help
with the death threats, which still came up occasionally. We
did family and solo counseling for a year, but it helped a lot.
With the counseling we communicated how much we cared about him
and how much we wanted to resolve the underlying problems--
constructively-- and how hurt we would be to lose him. Also, it
helped to have someone outside the family give him feedback,
including ''Talk of suicide is very, very serious. Don't do it
just to scare your family.'' And he disliked going to the
counselor enough to stop behaving in ways that would get him
back there. I don't think he had been depressed or really in
pain-- just dramatic, emotional, and manipulative. But the
point is we worked on strengthening our emotional connection
with him, and on two-way communication with him, and it's
helped a lot.
My heart goes out to you. I'm glad you recognized the possiblity that your child is
calling out for help and asked what to do. Please have your child evaluated by a
caring child psychiatrist or psychologist. Especially if your child persists in saying
this, have him or her evaluated. I am a adult with mild bipolar illness. I have a full
and happy life but I lived many years with untreated symptoms, like the feeling of
wanting to die. This illness is usually less damaging is it is treated early and I
it can surface at any age, even babies. Also, see the March issue of Bay Area Parent's
for more information.
this page was last updated: Nov 20, 2012
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network