How to redirect a child's desire to die!
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
A terrifying statement for a parent to hear from the mouth of their precious child is: “I just want to die!”
This heartbreaking outcry can send us into emotional states of fear and anxiousness, wondering what we did wrong. Life is hard, and when children experience hardship at an early age, no matter how we may deem its significance, we must listen to them — not push it aside like it will go away or fix itself.
For about four months, we have been experiencing this brokenness from our daughter, who is only nine years old! At first, I was surprised, yet I started to push it away in denial. Why would my flesh and blood want to die? Do we not love her, do we not supply her needs and wants, within appropriate discernment? She must be emotional over something; she will get over it.
My wife, on the other hand, was very alarmed and concerned right away. She had lived through postpartum depression after our daughter’s birth. In that situation as well, I pushed it aside, not understanding the seriousness and depths it can take someone. Not until she grabbed my hands, eyes full of tears, and stating she didn’t want to wake up from sleep anymore. She didn’t want to kill herself, but she had no desire to live out each day. She begged for me to take her to get help.
So now, nine years later, with our daughter, we took action sooner. Trying to find out where this was coming from and not ignore it. We tried asking her, but we were met with empty stares and tearful eyes. Our daughter already had trouble when trying to describe into words what she was feeling, whether it being joy, sadness, or frustration. So trying to pull out of her why she wanted to die was becoming quite frustrating to me.
Almost every night, she would continually state, “I just want to die so that I can be with Jesus right now!” We would ask her, “why?”. Tell us something;
is someone hurting you?
Is someone bullying you?
Is someone touching or hitting you?
Just silence and tears.
We would feed her encouragement. Truths about her, of what she has done. The person we saw in her. The person God sees in her and what He made her to become. The possibilities of what she could be and her dreams of becoming a veterinarian. She would perk up a little, remembering and blushing at the compliments. But the haunting would soon return.
We reached out to family and friends for prayer and advice. We didn’t stop asking her why and didn’t give up on reinforcing her with positive encouragement. We were also receiving encouragement in the Word, testimonies from others, support from believers, messages from the pulpit, all very timely and precise encounters.
Finally, one night, we had a little breakthrough. It turned out being a few things, but mainly it was part of her character of being a perfectionist. Already at her age, she was getting so much praise at how well she did things and how smart she was. When coming across something she was not good at, it hit her hard. She struggled for months in her mind, but it finally started surfacing. She started dreading school.
Finally, her frustration turned into her conclusion that there must be something wrong with her!
She couldn’t answer our questions of why, because she never experienced these emotions before. She never failed at something previously. She didn’t understand what was going on. She was scared, and all the positive reinforcement we were giving her was confusing her, making her feel like she was doing something wrong for what she was truly feeling inside.
Day after day, she opened up more and said that something was wrong with her, but she didn’t know what it was. Everyone was trying to tell her what she was feeling, but when she would disagree, we would, in turn, get frustrated at her. We were trying to fix her so that she would stop saying the forbidding words. All she wanted was for us to be beside her and to listen.
Her issue may seem trivial compared to the harder stories of people coming out of depression and suicide attempts. But we all as adults and parents have a lot more experience under our belts to pull from. We have all gone through different stages of failures and accomplishments many times.
This experience has made me more aware, to be more intentional with the time and training I’m pouring into our children!
What do we want to teach them about life, versus what we are trying to protect them from? What needs and desires are we providing for them in abundance rather than having them work through it and experience it for themselves?
Among all the answers to prayer, messages and stories from other believers, and perfect verses in the Holy Word each day as we needed it. There are two compelling chapters I want to share.
Philippians 1 and James 1
First In Philippians 1:13-30. We come to Paul, opening up about other believers who love and speak well of him. Then others who did not and their envy against him. Also, he opens up about the thorn in his flesh, of his stature, and his public speaking. However, here In the letter to the Philippians, he expresses his desire to die so he could be with Christ.
Philippians 1:19-23 (NKJV)
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.
For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
These verses gave me such comfort in the hard times of trying to draw anything out of our daughter. Furthermore, it helped guide and redirecting her conversations about death. Hearing what she was saying and feeling, I acknowledged the little I understood. When asked if she did die and were with Jesus, how would she feel then?
Her face lit up, and she expressed joy in not having to worry about things anymore, not worrying about chores or school. About animals getting hurt. About friends hurting her feelings or siblings fighting with her. But then her expression conflicted when she thought of what she would miss.
Then I remembered more from Philippians.
Philippians 1:24-26 (NKJV)
Nevertheless, to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.
And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith,
that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
So, I then asked her who would take care of the sick animals if she was gone. Who would comfort her little sister when she got hurt. Who needs you today and tomorrow to stand by them and help them? To play games, to laugh and cry with them? Who will we see in your chair at the dinner table? Who will beg us to go to the lake, to play down at the beach? If you’re gone, who will mother and I pray with, read to, and kiss goodnight in your empty bed?
This was a turning point. She was thinking of the world around her and her impact on it. She gave quick, witty answers at first but started contemplating it more and more as the days went on.
This was maturity growing in her, right before my eyes — a celebration of wisdom to use in her life.
Then, in the letter of James:
James 1:2-4 (NKJV)
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
I reflected on this verse some and made sense of it in this:
Trials test patience.
Fulfilled patience produces maturity.
Maturity celebrates in desiring nothing.
Desiring nothing is wisdom.
Wisdom is the character quality of appropriate knowledge with action.
My daughter was not mature in dealing with situations that were out of her control and what forced her into repeated battles. She had not experienced or endured a struggle like this before, and since she didn’t understand the good or evil in it, she wanted her self-interest to give up. She desired an easier route of someone else to take care of her pain, freeing her from struggles.
Once, she weighed out what dying meant. Who needed her to be alive and considered the profit of both sides. Her desire for self became nothing, and wisdom blossomed!
Brothers and sisters, continue to pray for us!
We will continue to walk with our daughter and children through this. God isn’t done with us, and we will all be walking in this issue, probably for the rest of our lives. We will continue to grow, mature, fall, and rise.
Proverbs 1:20 - 33 (NKJV)
Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, At the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words: “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge. Turn at my rebuke; Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.
“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies. For the turning away of the simple will slay them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil.”