Childhood is often thought of as the joyful time in life. Most people equate childhood with thoughts of children running and playing. Children of parents who have committed suicide would be among the first to dispel this idea. Childhood is in fact a time of intense learning and development, a place where people don’t always play well with others and one where there is very little control in the hands of the child.
Johns Hopkins Children’s Center has recently led a study that brought to light the fact that children of parents who have committed suicide are three times more likely to be at risk for suicide. These are the facts and they are quite scary when you consider that the child has no control over what the parent does and in the end is one major factor short of a compelling support system. Based on the idea that it “takes a village to raise a child”, the responsibility for helping this child to overcome these risk factors falls onto the shoulders of those who are not the child’s parents.
The child should be observed, but not stalked. Suicide if often pre-empted by depression. Those close to the child should make it a point to observe the child for any signs of depression and take the steps to deal with it as needed. Keep in mind that the other parent is also likely to suffer from depression as the result of the death. They may need some assistance in paying attention to the child and meeting their needs.
Avoid talk of suicide. The child does not need a reminder and a repeated discussion of the act of suicide only reinforces the presence of that idea in the child’s mind. It’s a simple theory of repetition and it works wonderfully in instructing children. Do you ever notice the way that children bring home homework with the same information presented in a variety of different ways? Repetition is the key to embedding an idea in a mind. Avoid embedding suicide any deeper in the child’s mind than it already is. Saying things like “don’t think of suicide” aren’t helpful either since the mind does not actually register negative words and here again the idea of suicide will be reinforced in the child’s mind.
Validate. The process of grieving is already a painful and angry process. Children of parents who have committed suicide are bound to be angry because in a way, their parent has abandoned them. Many children have difficulty in allowing themselves to be angry with their parents, especially one who has died. Let the child know that their feelings are valid so that they can begin to process them.
Present healthy options. So far, the child has seen an extremely unhealthy way of coping with their emotions. They need to be shown some healthy ways of dealing with their emotions so that they don’t end up turning to the one way that offers them some sort of immediate connection with the deceased parent and the ultimate way of avoiding dealing with emotions.
In short, this child needs some loving support, understanding and guidance. Anyone who loves this child has a responsibility to guide them in such a way as to put them on the path for a healthy lifestyle that does not include suicidal tendencies.