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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Warning signs and suicidal behaviors

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Welcome to 2020! PreK-Corner intends to educate and intervene on behalf of young children by providing communication, knowledge and strategies that may prevent and lessen the effect of unhealthy interruptions in their lives. You may ask questions and request topics about children birth through school age by using my contact information provided at the end of each column.

This column is a continuation of our discussion about young children with suicidal thoughts. Writing about this topic is tough because it is hard to conceive of children in this way. A reader, who read my December column about young children with suicidal thoughts, shared with me that he was having a hard time wrapping his head around children wanting to kill themselves when this should be one of the most carefree times in life. There are no easy responses to doubts like these. Suicidal behavior in children can be complicated and very subtle. 

To respond to this concern, we first must take into consideration that all children are uniquely different and therefore respond differently to life events. Secondly, there must be an understanding that all children born with healthy brains go through the same brain development as they grow and that the events of their life journey have a profound affect on their mental health and the functions of their brains.

I often refer to children as being like a beautiful flower garden. An expert gardener knows that to maintain a beautiful flower garden, he must know about each variety of flowers in the garden. The expert uses this knowledge to nurture each in a way that is conducive to healthy growth. In the same way, to provide what each child needs, we must know the child. Knowing a child is understanding his or her personality and character.  The uniqueness of each child is precious and should not be taken for granted. Children respond differently to things that are feared, to learning and to how they are loved.  

Children have a positive response to adults who respect their uniqueness and who make them feel special. Adults who take the time to know the child in their care will recognize when something is wrong. They will then take time to investigate and understand what they should do to intervene.

 Acknowledging that something is wrong may come from statements the child makes. For example, “No one cares if I am here anyway,” “What if I wasn’t here?” Experts suggest all of these types of statements be taken seriously, and that the adult should ask questions such as “Do you want to hurt yourself?” Other known signs from children that require intervention are changes in sleeping habits, changes in eating habits, withdrawal and isolation.  

Children who are born with healthy brains go through sound stages of brain development, unless there is something that happens to them that causes what I call an “unhealthy interruption.” Unhealthy interruptions can be traumatic events such as death, incarceration of a parent and abuse. These events in a still-developing brain may cause diseases such as depression or other malfunctions to the brain. Children’s brains are not ready to perceive the pain and darkness of these events. These events may cause them to have feelings of hopelessness and react in ways that indicate they believe the adults in their life can do nothing to help them. 

It is vital to intervene by seeking evaluations from a licensed mental health practitioner who specializes in young children. It is also imperative to know the foundational beliefs of the practitioner, which may be factored into their methods and advice.   

Dr. Mattie Jones, associate provost, professor and dean of education at Martin University and founder of PreK-Keys Consulting, can be contacted at mattielee-jones@att.net or www.prekkeys.com.

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