7 year old uses 'kill myself' flippantly

My son who turns 8 this month has said he wants to kill himself twice in the past month. The first time he was just hanging out in the office with myself and husband instead of getting ready for bed.

I reminded him he was supposed to be getting ready for bed, not angry at all, he is one I have to remind often & realize anger doesn't help the situation. Then he rattled off he wanted to kill himself. We told him that was not something to joke about - he apologized & got ready for bed.

The following day I talked to him about the statement from the night before. He told me when he makes mistakes he wishes he was dead. I asked him if he understood there is no return from death. He then said something like, 'well not dead, but disappear, like hide under the covers.' I then explained to him it is possible for people to kill themselves and he seemed surprised by this. I told him that is why we do not use the expression lightly. I said if he every did feel like he wanted to hurt himself to come talk to us because there are things we can do to make those feelings to go away.

My children and I snuggle in the morning & eventually there are lots of jokes & playing around before we get up for the day. This morning my 5 yr old daughter made a joke about not liking the dog licking her face & said she was being funny. My son said it was not funny and it made him want to kill himself.

Do kids use this as an expression? Or is this indicative of something bigger going on?

He is not using this statement out of anger, manipulation, in sadness or in frustration. It comes out of no where.

Ben's Answer:

I'm touched by your excellent, caring response you first gave your son when you asked him about that statment, and explained what killing yourself means, and how serious a thing that is. That was just what the situation called for. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that he then said it again. My first reaction is to think he was just saying it out of habit or to get some sort of reaction from you.

I think the best thing you can do is to respond again as you did the first time. Not to lecture him or make too big a deal, but to prove to him that you are paying attention. Maybe that's the "test" he's giving you - seeing if you really meant what you said, and if you really do take those words very seriously. Don't let him turn it into a game, but don't ignore it either.

Your offer to help him with his bad feelings is absolutely wonderful. Just keep being present with him and offering support if he needs it.

While it's not that common, I have seen kids talk about, or think about suicide. It may mean different things to different kids, depending on their concept of death. But it should never be taken lightly. Normally, a child will show other signs of sadness, depression, irritability, withdrawal, if they are at risk of self-harm... but not always - so it's good to take him seriously.

Chances are you have nothing to worry about.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist

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Mar 12, 2010
Maybe video games?
by: Anonymous

Thank you for your response. It has really helped me.

I spoke with him again and he really does not seem to comprehend the whole idea of suicide and seemed to incorporate a nervous laugh as I tried to explain it further.

A couple of days later we were playing a simplistic iPhone application non-violent game. On his turn he kept saying, 'oops, I almost killed myself.' It has made me wonder if maybe 'kill myself' is more of a game term with him and sort of a reset type of belief.

I will keep my eyes and ears open. He is such a happy child it just seem out of place. Though mood disorders run on both sides of the family, so I don't dare take any of it too lightly.

Thank you again.

You're welcome!

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