Statistics show that suicide is the second most common cause of death in people aged 15 to 29, but some children as young as six have been deemed suicidal.
Social media, academic stress, poverty, cyberbullying and many other modern-day challenges make it vital to focus on our children’s mental health and resilience as young as possible. As parents and as a society we have a moral obligation to our children to ensure that they are equipped to cope with life’s challenges and possess the skills needed to achieve happiness, self-fulfilment and resilience in the face of adversity.
The idea of being responsible for the future happiness of our children can seem like a very daunting task, one we may feel underequipped for. The good news is that simply focusing on where you focus your attention as a parent or primary caregiver, can have the biggest impact on your child’s resilience, self-confidence and emotional intelligence.
Focus on creating a secure attachment with your child.
When our children are babies we are excellent at attending to their needs, we respond to every cry, be it with food, nappy changes or cuddles and this sets the stage for secure attachment. As they grow and can communicate and live life more independently, we start to assume that they are living on the same emotional and behavioural plane as us and view challenging behaviour as manipulating, defiant or bratty. We should, however, be mindful of the fact that their emotional and cognitive brains are still developing and when they act out or have a tantrum or meltdown, they are in fact asking us for help in managing difficult emotions. In these moments we need to show up and be their safe and supportive space. This deepens connection and opens channels for communication that will benefit the parent-child relationship in the long run and most importantly set the stage for skills needed for good mental health and emotional intelligence.
Focus on your feelings
In the same way that we help our children grow their general vocabulary, we can help them learn to label their emotions and identify the associated physiological experiences of these feelings.
We can start to do this by relaying their emotional experience back to them. Not only does this validate their experience and feelings, but it also provides an avenue to explain the feelings they are experiencing, giving them names and tools to overcome them.
Focus on breaking cycles
Modern-day parenting is based on research on child development, allowing us to approach our children in a way that is suitable for where they are psychologically and developmentally. This shines a light on the many cycles that need to be broken, cycles brought forward from generations of parenting that came before us. Cycles such as physical punishment, saying things like ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘man up’ to our sons, cause our children to retreat into themselves and block the communication lines necessary in supporting our children through difficulties in their tween and teen years.
We should rather focus on open communication, providing a secure environment for vulnerability and ensure discipline focuses on teaching/learning and not punishment.
Focus on how you experience life
How we live our lives sets the standard for what children grow to expect to be normal living. We need to be very mindful of this and use it as a tool to empower our children. If we want our children to grow up and live in a way that is healthy for body and mind, we must live in a way that is healthy for body and mind. We need to model:
· stress management
· positive self-talk
· conflict resolution
· respect for ourselves and others
This is one of my favourite parenting responsibilities because it does not require us to sacrifice or pour from our proverbial cup. It requires us to live our best lives, making us happier and more resilient. The ultimate win-win situation.
Focus on your attitude
Our brains are hard-wired for a negativity bias, this is based on our natural survival instinct. However, constantly focusing on the negative impacts on our ability to be resilient and leaves us feeling powerless and in extreme cases leads to suicidal thoughts.
Studies have shown that adopting an attitude of gratitude leads to us feeling more positive emotions, relishing good experiences, improving our health, dealing with adversity, and building strong relationships.
Modelling this daily ritual for our children and consistently engaging them in conversation about what they are grateful for can turn this habit into a way of life that will make them happier and more resilient.
Suicidal thoughts have many causes. Most often, suicidal thoughts are the result of feeling like you can't cope when you're faced with what seems to be an overwhelming life situation. By modelling the skills listed above you will start to arm your child with the ‘toolkit’ needed to be more resilient, confident and adaptable when coming up against difficult situations, diminishing the chance of suicide becoming their only perceived way out.
Should you or anyone you know be struggling with anxiety or depression, or having suicidal thoughts call the Sadag Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567, or SMS 31393. These numbers are free and counselling is available in all 11 official languages