My 6 year old keeps saying "I'm gonna kill myself" - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 05:32 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I am really beside myself. I have sons, 10. and 6. The 6 y.o. is an incredibly sweet, loving, sensitive kid. He is quiet, and although shy isn't quite accurate, it is close. If he gets upset, he can't (won't?) tell us what is bothering him. In a lot of ways, he is like me, so I understand him--at the same time, I want him to be able to talk about what is bothering him--at least with us, his parents, so that he doesn't have to spend his life with a great big knot of bottled up bad feelings in his stomach the way I have.

Starting a few weeks ago, he has come out with the statement "I'm gonna kill myself". I have no idea where he has ever heard this, or if he even truly understands what it means. He has said it 3 times now--usually after I have given him a brief lecture on why he needs to clean up his bedroom or the playroom. He says he is "weird" and "bad" and then the kill myself thing. I would never call my kids weird or bad.

I am totally at a loss of what to say or do. I have tried to explain to him both that 1) I tell him things like pick up your toys, wash your hands, etc. because part of my job as a mama is to take care of him and help teach him how to someday take care of himself. And 2) what the expression "kill myself" really means and how we would feel if someone really did kill themselves. But I don't know what else to do. I mean, I don't want to blow this off--I can see that if he really did something to hurt himself, everyone would be saying "why didn't you do something before it came to this"--but at the same time, I don't want to blow it out of proportion---again, I have absolutely NO IDEA where he ever even heard such a thing, or if he understands at all what he is saying.

I love both my kids equally, but in different ways. This child, I love so much I can't even begin to express it here. He adores me, too, and I cannot imagine if anything ever happened to him. I just don’t know what to do.
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#2 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 05:41 PM
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It's quite possible he heard another kid say it (who may have heard it from TV, or an adult, or all kinds of places--there are even jokes about suicide on the old Bugs Bunny cartoons) and realized that it's a phrase that gets people's attention. Much like an f-bomb or "I hate you" or anything like that.

I'm guessing, this being Teh Intarwebz, someone is going to freak out and suggest that you take your kid to the ER or something. Obviously I don't KNOW that that is an overreaction, but I would say 99% of the time in a 6 year old, a phrase like that is being tossed around for a reaction, to express in the strongest terms possible "I am unhappy with the present situation and angry", and not an actual threat of suicide. I'd listen carefully to what your own gut reaction is--NOT your anxiety and worst case fears, but what you really intuit about him. It's probably not something that requires lights and sirens, but maybe just some careful thinking and talking to see what's getting under his skin.
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#3 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 05:57 PM
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How does your son act around his peers? Does he have many friends? Does he get picked on? That might have something to do with it. If you are really concerned, then ask his brother or neighbor kids what he's like.
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#4 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 06:06 PM
 
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I could have posted the exact same thing!even down to the personality and relationship!Exept my son is 8, and the oldest.

I also think it is a cry for help figuring out how to articulate a certain strong feeling.This is what I think/feel.
BUT I am listening here, because if there is any sign I am wrong and this could be something else,I'm more than happy to become aware of it.

mamma

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#5 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 06:10 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by whalemilk View Post
It's quite possible he heard another kid say it (who may have heard it from TV, or an adult, or all kinds of places--there are even jokes about suicide on the old Bugs Bunny cartoons) and realized that it's a phrase that gets people's attention. Much like an f-bomb or "I hate you" or anything like that.

I'm guessing, this being Teh Intarwebz, someone is going to freak out and suggest that you take your kid to the ER or something. Obviously I don't KNOW that that is an overreaction, but I would say 99% of the time in a 6 year old, a phrase like that is being tossed around for a reaction, to express in the strongest terms possible "I am unhappy with the present situation and angry", and not an actual threat of suicide. I'd listen carefully to what your own gut reaction is--NOT your anxiety and worst case fears, but what you really intuit about him. It's probably not something that requires lights and sirens, but maybe just some careful thinking and talking to see what's getting under his skin.
I agree with this. Look at the response he's gotten from you. It's a powerful phrase. Instead of having to go pick up his room right away, you sit down and talk and pay attention to him. A much different response than if he had told you something else like "I hate you! There is no way am I cleaning my room!!" or something like that right?
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#6 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 06:53 PM
 
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By all means have a professional talk to him and see if it is a serious threat or not.

Children that young really do make attempts.

My dh's brother killed himself after making one threat when they were children.

We just wasted a year and a half on bad therapists after a few years of complete denial, and it was only after finding one who connected with my dsd that she confessed to her she really did have suicidal thoughts when she was 6 and her mother died. My husband was beside himself when he found out he had missed all the signs that were right in front of him. There are psychological tests they can run to see if they are playing games or actually depressed, and there are 'trick' questions that are designed to catch them if they are trying to manipulate adults. From what we were told a younger child is a lot easier to figure out than an adult who can spot the trick questions.

I don't want to be dramatic or scare you unnecessarily, but please find out if he is serious before you write it off as him just trying to manipulate you.


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#7 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 06:57 PM
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When her mother died

Therein lies the difference between most kids who shout things to get attention, and truly troubled kids. A pretty big obvious disruption in her life and severe grief.

I wouldn't equate that to the OP's situation at all.
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#8 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 07:02 PM
 
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Maybe not, but a threat of suicide is a threat of suicide nonetheless.

And ignoring it and considering it manipulation is often a mistake, no matter what their reason.

I never said his reason was the same, just that ignoring it could be a mistake.

IMO, she was depressed before it happened, based on what I was told about her childhood, but I can't prove it since I wasn't there. FWIW, she didn't make any threats.

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#9 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 07:04 PM
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There is also danger inherent in pathologizing things that 6 year olds say simply because of a current hyperawareness of psychological disturbances in children. If anyone is interested in some of those risks, I'd suggest reading Goffman's work on labeling and stigma for starters.
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#10 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 07:09 PM
 
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Wow. One consultation with a professional is pathologicalizing?

OP, do whatever you think is best.

Pardon me for expressing concern, having an opinion or trying to help. Geeze.

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#11 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 07:25 PM
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Homebirthers sometimes say "if you buy the hospital ticket, you'll ride the hospital ride." Likewise, if you hire a diagnostician, you'll get a diagnosis. That's how the system works, for better or for worse (and trust me, even many inside it feel it is sometimes for worse.)
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#12 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 07:52 PM
 
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When I was 9 I wanted to kill myself. Of course I didn't really understand what death was, ie: I didn't understand the permanence of it. But I was genuinely suicidal, and I am lucky that I didn't actually do something that could have hurt myself.

I don't know if your child is or isn't suicidal- I do know, however, that the only way to take a child saying "I want to kill myself" is seriously. It is easier to deal with this problem now rather than waiting. Children can be suicidal, and even if he is not suicidal if he is using something as "dramatic" as saying "I want to kill myself" to "seek attention" there is something wrong. I would schedule an appointment with a child psychologist or social worker.

He doesn't need to have the trauma of loosing a parent to have suicidal thoughts or depression, btw. And depression in children looks a lot different than depression in adults. And it is not pathologising a child to bring the child in to talk to a caring adult- language like that is dangerous and is why many parents forgo seeking help for their children.
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#13 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 07:53 PM
 
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Hey, my 5-year old son says the same thing and I don't know where he picked it up either. If your son is, like mine, generally happy but prone to over-dramatize things, I wouldn't worry about it. Particularly in the situations where your son is saying it - not wanting to clean up his room, it seems like an attention-grabbing excuse. With my son, it's bath time that sets him off. I think it's kids just experimenting with words and ideas and reactions. I wouldn't worry about it, but just keep it at the back of your mind in case there are other things that worry you. Good luck!
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#14 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 08:23 PM
 
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What's your gut telling you on this one? Is this part of a set of things that make you worried about him? Do you think he's feeling ashamed and doesn't know those words yet?

If this were my highly sensitive, introverted 7 year old, I would take him to a child psychologist for an evaluation and see about family counseling. Why? Because our ds has a tendency toward anxiety. Because this would be behavior that's a bit of of the norm. Because my whole family has struggled with depression/anxiety, I woudln't let it go. I'd much rather do some therapy now, at age 7 and learn some coping techniques than to wait until things became truly frightening. Actually counseling for kids this age tends to be mostly for the parents.

I'd also keep a log of:
-What he's eating
-What his mood is
-What happens before and after he says this kind of thing.

You might find a pattern that would be very enlightening.

I would also read/re-read How To Talk So Children Will Listen (and Listen So Your Children Will Talk). I think you've handled it well, but I wonder if there's more you can do.

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#15 of 21 Old 07-25-2008, 09:29 PM
 
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I think you definitely need to just go with your gut and pay attention to other symptoms, if there are any. Usually when there is a problem it can be seen in more than just one behavioral instance. When the statement your son is using is isolated than I think it would be more of an age appropriate behavior being used for manipulation or to test boundaries.
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#16 of 21 Old 07-26-2008, 01:19 AM
 
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My DS says scary things to show us how scared or upset he is feeling inside. I don't want to downplay this if your gut tells you it is serious, but try working with him on other words.

For the room, for us, it would be, "Wow, you feel weird - what is up with that?" (reflecting and probing -from the Explosive Child -love it for all kids). Then work on what is happening. My DS 8 can't handle being sent to clean his room most of the time because it feels really overwhelming to him, then he feels really stupid. So I break down tasks and work with him. It is slow as molasses, but we are getting there. He is naturally like me, a messy person, so I understand his anxiety.
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#17 of 21 Old 07-26-2008, 01:29 AM
 
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As others have said, definitely listen to your gut. 6-year-olds do have true suicidal thoughts. If my highly emotional, sensitive 6-year-old expressed a suicidal thought, I would make an appointment with a counselor immediately.

to you. What an upsetting thing to hear.
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#18 of 21 Old 07-26-2008, 12:28 PM
 
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It's so hard to read a kid's mind. I told someone I wanted to kill myself in 5th grade. I meant it. I got in trouble for it and no concern what soever for my feelings, just how scared I made everyone else, followed by why would you say such a thing? Well, at that point I sure wasn't going to open up. I was *very* depressed most of my childhood, actually most of my life. I didn't get appropriate help until adult hood. Perhaps the school counselor if you feel like they actually care? They work with kids all day and may be able to help sort out where it's coming from. I did filial play therapy with my kids at school for awhile and it really helped with some issues my son was having. Big hugs to you and your sweet one.

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#19 of 21 Old 07-26-2008, 12:47 PM
 
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My 6 year old has started saying this recently also
She only says it when I tell her to clean her room or stop fighting over toys with her sister (She'll scream "I hate you, I'm going to kill myself"). I've always suspected that she is bi-polar... she can go from a screaming rage to the sweetest little girl in the world in seconds. She's generally a very sweet, happy girl. I'm truely hoping she is just using this to shock us and to get her way (when she says it, we stop and talk and then she doesn't end up cleaning her room, or she will get the toy she wanted, etc.)

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#20 of 21 Old 07-26-2008, 03:52 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Wow. Thanks for all the thoughts, opinions, experience, and support.

FTR, my gut was shocked--this is normally a happy kid. My gut tells me that he doesn't really understand what it means, but at the same time, I recognize that he is trying to tell me something.

Harrietsmama--you make a good point. When I talked to DS, I did pretty much just tell him how it made ME feel--and didn't even stop to ask "why did you say that--what is behind this feeling?" Hmmmmm.
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#21 of 21 Old 07-26-2008, 08:43 PM
 
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My son (5.5) has said that before, too, when he doesn't like something (minor, like cleaning his room). It's in the same voice as "I hate you!" and "I don't ever want to see you again!" and "You're so mean!"
He is a very happy kid, not introverted, not prone to abnormal mood swings, very sweet and affectionate. It's just a temper tantrum, he is figuring out what he can say that sounds really dramatic. I know, without a doubt, that my child is emotionally stable, happy, and confident. He just acts like an angry teenager sometimes. You should see him stomp and slam doors!
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