A Wall Street Journal article reports that the CDC confirms that youth suicide rates have increased 56% in a decade. Statistics can be alarming but the horrific reality of a child’s suicide can overwhelm us with sadness and questions about why such a thing happened.
The article goes on to say that the probable underlying cause of this child’s suicide was bullying. There obviously is much more to a story like this, but I thought I would invite readers to pause today and think about some ways parents can help to insulate their children from the impact of bullying or any other form of childhood trauma that can lead to something as tragic as suicide. For every successful suicide there probably are dozens of attempts by children who are not successful. Even when children are not attempting suicide, they may be battling with poisonous, overwhelming beliefs that can lead them to experience profound sadness, isolation and despair.
In a previous blog I shared Jane Stevens four pervasive beliefs of people with trauma histories, especially when the trauma occurs in childhood. The information in my blog was based on a 2018 podcast by Jane Stevens, Founder of ACEs Connection, when she was interviewed for Change Agent. In this podcast she shares many fascinating aspects of the ACEs work being done all over the country, including four common and highly toxic beliefs of children, who later, as teens and adults develop their own deep core belief systems. These are created by the way their minds and brains translated their childhood experiences of adversity.
Parents and other caregivers need to consider messages they could transmit that would counter these toxic beliefs. In addition, parents and caregivers can repeatedly emphasize to their children how important each child is to the overall quality and functioning of the family has a unit. All children benefit from knowing they are an invaluable part of their family, that they belong, that they are critical members of their family.
These types of messages can help insulate children who may be struggling with some of these toxic beliefs connected to experiencing early childhood trauma, such as reported in the ACEs research. In a strange way, these messages put some pressure on children to continue to contribute to the family, which is the opposite thinking of self-harm.
Messages that emphasize the contributions of a child to their family can also serve as buffers when children experience the trauma of being bullied, mocked, isolated from peers, shamed, ridiculed, messages that can cause such desperation in a child as to have that child think that suicide is a viable option for escaping from the pain.
When parents or caregivers repeatedly communicate to children that they have great worth, are irreplaceable, make important contributions, that they belong, bring unique gifts and talents to the family, these messages can help a child disbelieve any toxic messages transmitted by other children who may be bullies or highly competitive for social status.
Strong messages of a child’s valuable contributions to the health and joy of his or her family can serve to insulate and protect a child’s emotional health, and lessen the power of toxic messages from outsiders as well as those that can result from a child who has experienced significant trauma.
Invitation to Reflect
- What are some of the significant messages your children or the children in your community experience that attack their self-worth? These can be the messages of bullies or children who are socially competitive and willing to do whatever is necessary to diminish the worth or power of other children.
- How might repeatedly communicating to children how important they are to their family insulate those who are on the receiving end of toxic messages from peers or other children to whom they are exposed?
- What are some specific, descriptive messages you can give to your children to help them see how valuable their contributions are to their family?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute