SALT LAKE CITY — September is National Suicide Prevention Month and suicide in one demographic is on the rise — our youth. Children ages 10-14 have nearly tripled from 2007 to 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show recently released data from 2018 show a 16% increase over the previous year from children in that age range. In hopes of raising awareness surrounding suicide, Dr. Matt Woolley, a Clinical Psychologist, spoke about ways to have a deeper relationship with our kids on the Project Recovery podcast.
Listening is key
Let’s face it, for many parents the serious talks with our children can be just as awkward for us. This awkwardness can lead to us explaining to our kids how they should feel about a topic or ways to approach certain ideas. But Dr. Matt explains that instead of making these conversations a lecture, they should also be focused around listening.
By opening the conversation for our kids to tell us how they feel, we can instantly have a deeper relationship with our kids. According to Dr. Matt, this also makes conversations that are typically harder to address easier.
Dr. Matt is also quick to point out that in order to have a deeper relationship with our kids, we need to dig deeper to open that dialogue.
“A lot of us put in a lot of time so that we have fun and enjoyable and close relationships with our kids,” Dr. Matt said. “But do we have deep relationships with our kids? That’s a little harder to accomplish.”
Spend time together with the help of parallel play
Parallel play is a form of play that young children engage in an activity alongside each other. But Dr. Matt encourages parents to partake in a form of parallel play where you can have those tough conversations while doing a fun activity. This way, the child feels that the awkwardness is no longer there and the tension is relieved.
Dr. Matt recommends playing video games with your kids or getting outside and playing a physical activity together. One idea that’s easily manageable for many parents is to just go on a drive with your child.
“One that we can do almost every day is going for a drive. You’re not staring each other down and you’re doing something else. Then you’re having these conversations in a parallel way,” Dr. Matt explained. “That’s a great way to get rid of the awkwardness and have a good, deeper conversation with your kids.”
Have more heart-to-heart conversations early
Kids are living in a technological world where they can research so many different topics at the click of a button. This leads to greater responsibility for parents to talk to their kids at an earlier age about the things that are sometimes harder to talk about, especially when it comes to sad feelings according to Dr. Matt.
“At those younger ages, at least talk about sad feelings and what kinds of thoughts do [they] have. That’s a great time to pry into that little mind and have them talk to you about it,” he explained.
Dr. Matt offers a couple of different ways to help your child open up. By using phrases like, “When I feel sad, I sometimes have these thoughts”, you can easily open the conversation by relating to them. Explain to them how you feel towards a certain emotion to let them know that they’re not alone.
By opening the opportunity for discussion early, you allow the child to express themselves without the feeling of shame says Dr. Matt.
“It set’s the stage for being able to talk about those more sad, depressive, internal experiences that every child is going to have,” he explained.
Help them learn an emotional vocabulary
Another way to have a deeper relationship with our kids is to help empower their emotional vocabulary.
“For children, that’s something they’re developing. How do I describe how I feel besides good and bad? Can I be more specific? And you can help them learn that so that they have the tools to describe how they’re feeling as they get older,” Dr. Matt explained.
Some examples of pleasant feelings can be happy, motivated, optimistic, or confident.
While some unpleasant examples can be angry, sad, frustrated, stress, or jealous.
Don’t be afraid to seek additional help
As great as we can be as parents, sometimes it’s best to talk to those who specialize in certain areas of mental health. For many kids, that person can even be a counselor.
“Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to other people who know more about this than I do,” says Dr. Matt. “If you help them understand [that] a counselor can be somebody who has an expertise that can help you through something.”
With the rise of telehealth medicine, there’s never been an easier way to get help for you or your loved ones according to Dr. Matt.
“Telehealth visits are actually quite effective,” he said. “It takes away the stigma of [being] a patient because there’s something wrong with me if they’re talking in their living room or in their bedroom and having a good conversation with a therapist.”
Listen to the podcast to learn other ways to create a deeper relationship with our kids
For more information on suicide prevention or if you or someone you know is struggling, you can find more information on Facebook, KSL TV, or from Use Only as Directed. To hear more from Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley, you can listen below or subscribe to the ‘Project Recovery’ podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get major podcasts.