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A mom at my daughter's school told me that her son told her that my 6-year-old daughter told him that she doesn't like herself and wants to kill herself.

I'm really not sure how to approach this with my daughter. She definitely is the sort of person who will say things for attention, and of course the kindergarten gossip line is hardly reliable. I suspect she wouldn't be saying something like that if she hadn't heard it somewhere before; I know she hasn't heard it from me. Her mom and I are not together, and it's possible that she heard it at her mom's house, or on TV (again, not at my house.)

I have noticed that my daughter seems to be taking criticism very hard recently. For instance, the other day I was showing her how to hold cheese so she could cut it with a cheese slicer without her fingers being in a position where they could get cut, and she burst into tears. (I only let her slice cheese with a cheese slicer under supervision.)

It has occurred to me that she is at about the age when a real understanding of death can come, and that she may be processing that.

I'm afraid that if I bring up what she (supposedly) said to a kid a school, then she will feel like she's in trouble. But I don't want to ignore the issue if she really needs help. How should I respond to this? How can I tell if she is depressed, and how can I help her if she is?

  • 1
    This question is clearly asking for medical advice. Parenting needs to sort out whether asking for medical advice is allowed or not because currently the system is baffling. – DanBeale Mar 9 '15 at 16:22
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    @DanBeale I agree that psychological falls under the medical category, and the question is asking for a treatment/intervention (e.g. "what can I do as a parent") although not a diagnosis (e.g. "is this depression"). However, some aspects of it (e.g. "she doesn't like herself" and "seems to be taking criticism very hard") do not necessarily require professional intervention; it's a tough balance. A full discussion of this would be best on Meta. – Acire Mar 9 '15 at 16:44
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    Putting this as a comment because it's not a full answer. One advice I can give to you, not as a parent but as a child, is NEVER to dismiss these things as silly or a "phase." It's possibly the worst thing you can do--it took a lot of bravery to admit it and seek help, but doing this can make him feel truly alone and hopeless if they're rejected by even their closest confidant. – user3932000 Mar 15 '15 at 14:59
  • You may want to talk to a professional child psychologist, rather than an SE. – Zibbobz Mar 16 '15 at 15:14
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    A few days later, I tried to bring it up with my daughter. I said that I had heard from one of the other kids at school that she said she didn't like herself very much, without going into the suicidal half. She denied ever saying it. I told her that it would be okay to tell me about it if she was feeling like that, and I was just sad to hear that she wasn't feeling good because I love her very much. At that point, she admitted that she might have said something like that "back when [she] was three," but not any time recently. – brendan Mar 19 '15 at 20:25
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+100

It's possible that she is just being dramatic and doesn't actually intend to hurt herself. If so, great, but there's likely still some truth to what she said: she feels like she isn't getting attention, and/or she feels like she isn't valued and loved. The fact that she's been increasingly sensitive to criticism indicates this if nothing else.

However, it's also possible that she is truly depressed. Young children do attempt (and succeed at) suicide (ref. Suicidal Behavior in Children Younger than Twelve: A Diagnostic Challenge for Emergency Department Personnel) So be glad that she is reaching out for help, because it's a chance to figure out what's going on and intervene.


Things I would do as soon as possible:

Consult a professional. Don't dismiss this as "just a phase." A child psychologist knows the right questions to ask and what to look for. Regular appointments with a therapist can provide her a chance to talk with a non-critical adult (she can complain about your or her mother, for example, which she may not want to do to you directly) and a professional can teach coping techniques to help her deal with the root causes of low self worth.

Talk to her. Be honest about why you want to have this conversation ("Child's mom heard that you told Child you're unhappy and you don't like yourself"). Offer her the chance to open up. Focus on your concern for her, and avoid any suggestion that she's done something wrong by sharing her worries, fears, and/or depression.

  • I'm not angry. I'm just worried and it makes me sad to hear that you're sad.
  • I'm glad you told somebody that you feel unhappy because now I can try to help you.
  • I want you to know that you can talk to me about things that make you unhappy.

Ask her what brings on those feelings of low self-worth. Be prepared to hear that it's something you do (my son gets intensely miserable and self-hating when he feels neglected), and be open to changing yourself. This doesn't mean you're a bad parent, or that this is all your fault (or all her mother's fault, or all whoever's fault), and blaming is counter-productive.

Include other adults. Her mother needs to know about this. (Depending on your relationship, it could be a tricky conversation -- just avoid blaming and focus on your daughter -- but advice on that is outside the scope of my experience and this Answer.) Depending on how severe underlying issues are, teachers and school counselors may also need to be brought in (especially if there's a bullying or she's overwhelmed by schoolwork).


Some general ideas for how to increase her sense of self-worth on an ongoing basis:

Focus on positives. Praise effort, not "her" (for example, "Great job on your homework, you clearly put in a lot of effort" instead of "Your homework is correct, you're so smart"). Thank her for doing chores or little helpful things around the house ("It's so helpful when you [set the table, tidy your room, fold your laundry]"), even for things that she is expected to do. Show your appreciation for the difference she makes in your life.

Remind her she is loved. Hugs, praise, and including her in your life, both in special and everyday ways. Taking her out for a daddy-daughter dinner date is a great occasional treat, but everyday things are just as important.

  • Show up for practices or performances (sports, music, dance, whatever).
  • Sit with her while she does homework instead of sitting her somewhere and expecting it to happen.
  • Ask for her help with miscellaneous tasks you're doing. Find age appropriate ways she can help, even if the overall task is not something you'd want a 6 year old to attempt solo.

    • Want to do the dishes with me? (Bubbles are fun.)
    • Want to cook [favorite meal] with me? (SO MANY ways to help in the kitchen!)
    • Want to help me write this email? (Let her type words.)
    • Want to help me fix this light bulb? (Talk about electrical safety, talk about how light bulbs work, ask her to hold the new bulb while you take the old one out, etc.)
  • Listen to her. Pay attention to her interests.

    • Let her take the lead on suggesting activities (going to the park, playing with dolls, cooking, hammering random pieces of wood together). Keep an eye on what she wants to do, and try to figure out ways to make that happen more often
    • Let her ramble on about a book or movie or toy that she's excited about. Nod and smile and make interested comments: "Wow," "That IS cool," etc. (Be prepared to be bored. Keep listening even when you are bored.)

Use constructive criticism. Kids need guidance and teaching, and we don't expect them to know everything. Unfortunately, some kids take this badly and as evidence that they Just Can't Do Anything Right. Focus on things she's doing right, concentrate on the goal, praise her effort and eventual success. Ask leading questions "Hmm, is that the right way to do it?" to help her examine the problem herself and self-correct, rather than you doing all the critiquing and correction. There are a couple other Questions that may be useful to look at:

  • 1
    Thank you (and also the other excellent answers) for your well though-out reply! I'm going to let it wait a while before accepting an answer. – brendan Mar 9 '15 at 18:03
  • Don't forget to rule out physical causes. While I have some issues with Dr. Daniel Amen, his testimonial about the difficulty that he (as a medical insider) had getting the right kind of help for his nephew and the importance of looking for physical issues when dealing with persistent unusual states of mind is important for people to see. – pojo-guy Jun 11 '18 at 14:50
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I was a depressed child. I didn't like myself much until I was in college. Childhood depression is often ignored and marginalized but it is still real depression (people often minimize it- suggesting that children never have anything to feel depressed about as they have few responsibilities and are given a lot of indulgences).

What I would do if I were in your shoes is I would get her into short-term counselling with a trained child psychologist. If she just wants attention, they will pick up on that quickly and work with you to direct her to better ways of getting attention. If she's actually depressed, they will help her and you learn skills to cope with it. It probably won't take many sessions and learning how to cope with what she has going on would certainly be worth it. This is especially important if you don't have a personal history of depression, as it is very hard condition to understand.

  • The voice of experience (not just "my child has gone through this" but "I've gone through this") is helpful -- thank you for sharing! – Acire Mar 9 '15 at 16:08
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Ask her why she said that.

I agree with (and upvoted) all of Erica's thoughts as good advice generally in this situation, but I think the first thing to do is ask her why she said those things. I like Erica's advice in how to do it, too, but make sure you stick with it and make her feel safe about answering the question.

My daughter did something similar the summer she turned five. The specific words were, "I wish I was dead," but the impact on me (terror, grief, guilt...) was huge. I had several panicky days of this before I managed to figure out what was going on. It turned out to be a combination of 1) her being very unhappy about some specific, ongoing things in her life and 2) her being very familiar with a movie where the little girl used those particular words to express her deep unhappiness with the unfair stuff happening in her life.

In other words, it was not that my daughter really wished she was dead, in all its horribleness, but had learned that those were words people said when they were miserable and bad things were happening in their lives.

Unfortunately I didn't pick up on the coincidence of those words at the time, and I had a terrified few days before I finally asked her why she was saying that. (I didn't ask right away because I had assumed that if there were problems in her life she would have told me about them; and that if she were depressed, she would be too young to be able to explain it even if I asked; and I hoped that by "loving her more" I could get her to stop saying it.) When I finally asked her, and kept asking her through her somewhat muddled replies, it emerged that her current nanny had what we both considered an unfair way of punishing her for "misbehaving." Once I knew what my daughter was so upset about I was able to put a stop to it, and my daughter stopped saying, "I wish I was dead." I also told her that she needed to tell me whenever she was unhappy, so we could do something about it together. (We never discussed where she got the words, BTW -- it wasn't until I watched the movie again a few years later that I figured it out.)

Clearly a six-year-old gets around more than a pre-kindergarten five year-old, and has more sources of stress in her life, so the chances are high your daughter's issues (whatever they are -- maybe related to getting too much criticism from somewhere?) don't have so simple a fix -- or it's possible that she is clinically depressed and will need to see a specialist -- but it makes sense to start by asking her why she said those things. And if applicable, to give her different, more useful (and less terrifying!) things to say when she's feeling unhappy/overwhelmed in the future.

  • +1 - great to have a perspective from someone who has been through this. – anongoodnurse Mar 13 '15 at 19:26
4

my approach to this would be to talk to her every day. Ask her about her day, classmates and friends, problems in kindergarden etc. and take her seriously. It doesn't necessarily have to be about problems.

Maybe you could recreated the day with her dolls, so it is more a game than a serious conversation. Over time this could be a way to help her to express and/or solve difficult situations and to learn about such difficult concepts like death.

Or you could read child stories (about dying?) and talk to her what she thinks it means. Be honest with her, especially with such difficult topics.

Let her try things by herself (not with cheese cutters) and give her credit and reinforcement on the things she did right. Focus on the things she does good and don't pressurize her if she fails.

Keep in mind that I'm no expert, just a father who tries these things himself.

2

Suicidal thoughts and suicidal comments are always a significant sign for concern.

In England: make an appointment with your GP. Ask for an appointment with your local CYPS (Children and Young People's) mental health services. (Or they might be CAMHS - Child & Adolescent MH Services).

Your child is six, and so they are unlikely to know what suicide actually means. But still, see a professional.

1

Please take this seriously. This child needs immediate psychiatric help. I'm saying this from experience: I was a suicidal child. And yes, at six years old I did have enough of an understanding of death and dying to know what I was saying and that I meant it. I'm 27 now, and that part of my life is very fuzzy, but I remember enough to know that there was some intervention, but whatever it was, it clearly was not enough, since I remained suicidal, and those feelings never really went away. I'm getting appropriate help now, but I know that being suicidal is part of a much larger mental health problem that I have to live with for the rest of my life. There is hope, but it could be an uphill battle. And please, please, listen to the professionals and make the changes they recommend!

0

Having aggressive or hostile behavior.It is extremely important that you take this seriously and help her develop a positive attitude towards life.

usually Children will have a better understanding as they grow older.

Help her to focus on doing things which she loves doing.

You must work upon your child’s confidence in every way possible.

Motivate your child if she failures in academics.

Let your child have a sense of freedom to do whatever she feels like.

At this age,you child should not get pressurized.

-2

Make up a story that's related to your own past.

  • Sit her down and talk to her about your own childhood.
    Tell her while laughing(not too much.she must take you seriously) that "I was just awful when i was little."IF i had a friend like you I would have turned out to become what you are now.You are perfect.But there is no hope for me now(laugh)"

  • Compare her with others(but don't make it a habit) "That kid who lives two blocks away, have you seen her dress? she is nothing like my fairy lil' daughter? Were you a fashion designer or somethin' in your past life?"(Please laugh, laugh a lot even if she doesn't)

Make her relate to yourself
She will find lots of people to whom she could relate but relating to her father/mother will get her soft side out, she will eventually want to break out of that shell of depression and would want to fix it. And when she wants to fix it, she must see her father standing there smiling and not looking at her suspiciously thinking "Is she tryna commit suicide or somethin'?"

  • You MUST make sure she feels there have been people who felt just like her or worse but at the same time she is stronger than anybody else in the whole world. How to do it? Get her to participate in certain activities of yours that has nothing to do with her skills or interests. things like
  • ask for her help while you try to buy a present for her mom.(It does not have to be your wife's birthday or anything to give her a present)
  • or while you fix an electric board tell her to wear rubber flip-flops and stand behind you and to prompt you in case you do anything wrong and make a fast serious comment like "Im not good at this, HOPE YOU ARE"

  • She might want to feel that people around her need her.

  • She might want to feel that she is much better at making stuff happen than she give herself credit for.
  • How can you tell if she's depressed? Look for these signs:
  • When she breathes, does she exhales and inhales at an irregular interval. (people who are in distress or nervous, have irregular breath issues)
  • Does she eat a lot sometimes and sometimes no mood to eat at all?
  • Is she always agitated to reply whether you ask her the simplest questions or even if you enter the room, is she like all flustered and trying to look like she is perfectly ok?
  • Does she tries to look for stuff all the time to comfort her things like Tv. -lack of physical energy.(Does she take a while to reply you?does she reply too low in volume?

If you find the above signs, then yes she is depressed.

  • How can you help her if she is?

  • It's completely my opinion and I might be totally wrong but it's something that she has acquired from her sorroundings(hearing people talk, from some TV show or something). It's a phase she is going through and not particularly a very very serious issue.

It's like one of those times when say you were in a public situation and people made fun of you, when you return home, your older brother cracks a joke on how you ugly your nose looks and then out of nowhere you catch a commercial on Tv that sells a product to REGAIN YOUR SOCIAL REPUTATION, GET YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD AND FAMILY MEMBERS TO RESPECT YOU AS A PERSON, or BECOME PHYSICALLY BEAUTIFUL IN 72 DAYS WITH THESE CAPSULES.

  • a human rethinks negative thoughts again and again and those thoughts join his/her long term memory and they start believeing from their core that that's what they are. Same goes for positive thoughts.

All you have to do is break the continuity of your daughter's depressions phase(doesn't matter what reason) by adding various POSITIVE daily events in her life. Don't let this phase build and build. Don't criticize her activities, just be a positive example.

Mother is a daughter's guide, help in dark times. Father is a daughter's hero, her ideal, her superman.

All the best!

  • 1
    You're right that family members can help a depressed child by being positive and supportive. I disagree that this is "just a phase she is going through" -- depression can be extremely serious, at any age. – Acire Mar 15 '15 at 21:17
  • An example? Ever met a kid you don't really know, had fun with him and then after three days you meet him again and he has no idea who you are? It's because their memory is not so strong, so its likely the depressions will not last long.By a "phase" i simply mean that hopefully it will be a short period of time for the distres to last.Also, if you haven't noticed i did mention that I might be totally wrong :) and i never said depression cannot be extremely serious, it is, but there is a solution to everything that builds in your mind.Positivity kills negativity and vice versa. – Freedom_side Mar 16 '15 at 6:46

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