According to The Trevor Project (2020), suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth 10-24 years of age. Even more troubling, according to The Jason Foundation Parent Resource Program, four out of five completed suicides gave clear warning to those around them about their intentions before suicide was carried out. Additionally, more than 1 in 3 high school students reported feeling intense feelings of sadness and hopelessness in 2019, and this was before the worldwide pandemic that intensified these feelings for many.
Youth in the LGBTQ community are particurly at risk. Specifically, LGBTQ youth that come from a home that has proven rejecting of their chosen identity were 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide and be successful than their peers that either came from affirming homes, regardless of their sexual orientation. On a personal note, I have witnessed this occur within my community when youth were afraid to be honest with their families and felt that suicide was their only way out of a sad situation.
So, what happens when our children come to us with tough conversations? Perhaps they are letting us know that they have a different sexual orientation, or they are struggling with a substance abuse problem. Maybe a relationship got out of hand, and they don’t know how to handle it now. Maybe their mental health has taken a dive, and they are trying to low-key let someone know that they are self-harming or experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Regardless of what the actual situation is, how we respond as parents will have a direct impact on our relationship with our child and on their own self worth and esteem. Let’s look at some strategies to help us navigate those murky waters.
Top 5 Tips for Strengthening Relationships during Tough Conversations
Affirm that they are heard.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who told me he came out to his father twice. I was flabbergasted. How would you have to do that twice? His father unfortunately chose to deny that the conversation had even taken place. In this case, my friend didn’t need immediate acceptance, but he did need to feel heard. If you need some time to process the information, it is okay to say that, but ultimately your child needs to feel heard and know that they are still loved.
Use a statement that focuses on the relationship being open and honest immediately.
For example, even if you do not like what you heard (and in those moments that aren’t sunshine and rainbows, we probably aren’t liking it), it is important to express how proud you are of your child for being brave enough to come to you with something they know you might not want to hear.
You could say something like, “I need some time to process this _____, but I am so glad that you told me. We will navigate this together, and I love you no matter what.”
If your child needs help in some way (think mental health needs or a substance abuse problem, etc), get them help.
What is important here is that your child sees you as their advocate, and not as a person who is judging them. Have your child be part of the process here. If he or she needs a counsellor, allow them to pick who they would feel comfortable talking to.
Educate yourself on whatever your child is struggling with.
I may not understand what it is like to struggle with a substance abuse problem. I am heterosexual. BUT, I love my children, and if they are struggling with something, it is my job to equip myself with the knowledge to help them be healthy and happy.
Build a community of those that support you and your child.
People who routinely criticize your child or your parenting are not the ones you need to be investing your time in right now. For example, comments like “she is just doing that for attention” when your child has anxiety are not helpful. Homophobic, racist, or otherwise offensive comments should also not be acceptable in your circle of friends and family.
Instead, you need a community of people who are in the trenches with you.
Seek out support groups and those that have proven unconditional love during tough times. If your child recently came out to you, seek out a group of parents of LGBQT children. If your child has some special needs you are struggling with, there are groups of other parents going through the same things (groups for parents struggling with behaviors stemming from ADHD, bipolar disorder, being on the spectrum, oppositional defiance, etc).
Most importantly, reach out. The Lily Jo Project also runs a group on Facebook for mental health resources for parents and those that work with youth. I moderate the group, and we would love for you to check it out. We pride ourselves on a community that is inclusive and accepting of all. You can request to join here – looking forward to seeing you there!
If you enjoyed this article, you may find the following articles helpful:
- 5 Harmful Things to Say to Children and What to Say Instead (Part 1)
- 5 MORE Harmful Things to Say to Children and What to Say Instead (Part 2)
- Time to Talk…Practical Ways to Facilitate Conversations with Your Children
- Let’s Talk about our Feelings: Building Emotional Intelligence in our Children
The Jason Foundation Parent Resource Program. (2020). Facts about Suicide. Retrieved from http://prp.jasonfoundation.com/facts/
The Trevor Project. (2020). Facts about Suicide. Retrieved from https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/
About the Author: Brandy Browne
Brandy Browne is an early childhood educator in the United States, as well as a family coach and blogger for UnStuck (www.unstucks.com), her family coaching service aimed at helping families develop positive habits and breaking the cycle of generational trauma and poverty.
Her education is in early and elementary education, and she also has a masters degree in parenting and child/adolescent development. Brandy is a wife to her high school sweetheart of fifteen years, and together they share three children, aged ten, seven, and five. In her free time, she enjoys reading, gardening, writing, and distance running.