When I started my career in counseling in 2011 I almost never heard children say suicidal comments. However, as Bob Dylan says, “times are a-changing”. I now get at least one child a week coming to see me because they made such a comment to their parents and/ or school. I believe this is in part due to children learning about mental health earlier and us as a society are being more open to mental health issues, which is a good thing. I do, however, often see this as a generalization of clinical terms as well. What I mean by this is that that phrases like, “I’m depressed”, “You’re so bipolar”, “You are so OCD”, ect are used commonly and have lost some of their meaning. Being sad is different than being depressed, have up and down days is different than having bipolar, being neat is not OCD.
Regardless, how I coach parents and my kiddos on this issue is to find different words to describe how they feel. We want to take what our kids say seriously, so if they say “I want to die” then we will take actions to protect our children, as we should. Thus, I tell my kiddos to use feeling words (https://www.gottman.com/blog/printable-feeling-wheel/). After we acknowledge how we feel, we can problem solve and use coping skills. I also tell my kiddos I work with, that if you do feel like you want to hurt yourself, you need to tell your parents. We even pinkie swear over it!
If you child says they want to hurt themselves, get them evaluated by a licensed professional, teach them feeling words, and help them problem solve. BUT, also leave room for them to feel whatever it is that they’re feeling… its hard being a kid. AND, if you child is under 10, they will need help using coping skills, so don’t just tell them what to do, show them, do it with them.