Young Children Talking about Killing Themselves

Archived Q&A and Reviews


5 year old says "I want to kill myself"

Aug 2010

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. worried

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. a mom

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. Ex-patient

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. harriet

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. Lynne

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 older son.

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: (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, 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 help. Been there

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! been there

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 thoughts.

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? Anon

6 yr-old son with suicidal thoughts

Nov 2009

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. worried mom

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 grade.

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. olivia

7 year old says he wants to be dead

Jan 2009

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 he's insecure.)

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 better.)

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 ( 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 issues. Seriously.)

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. guy

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. Anon

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 the universe.

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. Concerned

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 you.

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, anon

My 6 year old just said he wanted to kill himself

May 2007

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 from them. The great thing is that we can try again. You made a big mistake. When your son said he wanted to kill himself, he was telling you how he was feeling inside. Because he is six, he does not have the 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 I am feeling this way?'' Your reaction (yelling at him and sending him to bed with no dinner) did not help him deal with the emotion he was feeling; it simply let him know that he is not to share his feelings with you, because he will be punished. Or, 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 his feelings for him. For example, tell him, ''You must be feeling so hurt right now!'' 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. What would have happened if you had simply given him a hug and said, ''You sound really hurt!'' Would he have elaborated and told you what he was really feeling? Or would he have come up with his own solution of how to deal with the situation? Your reaction served only to make him feel bad about himself and let him know that his feelings 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

Hi, 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 conversations context).

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. anon

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. Concerned

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 your fright and probable unclear thinking, you berated your son and punished him for saying 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 your son. Even if he was just saying that for affect, your reaction showed him that sharing his honest feelings (even if just for the moment) will get him a tongue- lashing and punishment. You need to apologize to him for your reaction, explaining that you were scared/worried about him. Ask him questions about how he feels. If you are still worried, get him to a therapist and get some therapy for yourself so you can handle whatever may come next. Best of luck to your entire family. anon

Hi - He probably was just trying to be dramatic and get attention - and get 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 understands what it means) and that if he says it he will have a time out/not be able to continue a 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 - your 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 of other ways to punish that don't involve something the child very much physically needs, not to mention that he can't possibly think straight or hear what you are saying when he is hungry. good luck

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 trouble.

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 do.

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. Karen

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 to you. anon

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 mean. 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. Lauren

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. Anon

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 reaction.

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 the time.

(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.) anon

Punishment is DEFINITELY not the way to go. You need to talk to him about this, and 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 trouble emotionally, he should see a therapist. Charles

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. c

From your reaction, it seems that you're a bit of a drama queen yourself. 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 further. Calm Mom

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, it happens. G

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 teacher of students K-6 and a mother. I would say that it is not unusual for kids to experiment with sensationalism. Your son may have been doing just what he said he was doing. He was looking for positive attention from older kids. I would not recommend punishing him for something that is so natural. As a teacher, I would recommend 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 getting 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 therapist or pediatrician. Compassion, understanding, unconditional love and help with building new skills are in order here. understanding is key

You know your son the best, but I would be extremely concerned that your son said he wanted to kill himself. He's clearly not happy. You sound extremely critical of him. There doesn't seem a lot of gentleness, in your response to him, or in your description of him. A lot of kids are dramatic and say dramatic things. That's a 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 solution to a child who is lacking social skills? Wouldn't it be better to get him help and 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. Please get help for you son, and get some parenting help for yourself. No child should be punished for saying they wanted to kill themselves. If he knew how serious that statement was and still said it, then punishing him will only keep him silent, but perhaps deadly. If he didn't know how serious the statement was, then you just 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.

7 yr old talking of killing herself

March 2005

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?) Concerned mom

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. sel

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? anon

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. Anon

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. Joan

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. anon

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. concerned

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 know it can surface at any age, even babies. Also, see the March issue of Bay Area Parent's for more information. Anon