This time of year can be especially challenging for many school-age youth. Sometimes we forget how difficult it can be for a young person to ask for help, especially if they anticipate disapproval or judgment. Ally Week is a good time to commit to making it easy for the young people in our lives to ask for help and letting them know that asking for help is good and should be celebrated as courageous.
"How Was Your Day, Really?"
As adults, we have a role as gatekeeper. We can open that door to help our kids when they need it. A first step is to have a real conversation about how their day was. If your child shares that they had a bad day at school, ask what they mean, and be specific. Ask, "What happened? Who was there? How did you react? How did that make you feel? Did you talk to a teacher or counselor at school?" Get to the bottom of the incident and work with your child to identify safe ways to handle it and safe places and people to turn to for help. Also, make sure to thank them for trusting you, and acknowledge how brave they were to tell someone about it.
Know the Signs
Whatever challenges your child faces, keep an eye out for warning signs of suicide. The surgeon general asserts that although it isn't easy, talking about suicide can be lifesaving. Don't be afraid to ask tough questions like, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" or, "Have you been thinking about suicide?" You don't know the type of help your child might need if you don't ask the questions. Moreover, by asking, you show that you care and are willing to listen.
Open the Door to Help
As gatekeepers and allies, our role is to help children get the help they need. Help your child identify at least one other adult they can turn to in challenging times. This could be a counselor, a faith leader, a teacher, another family member or a family friend. There are also excellent free and confidential services available on the phone and online through The Trevor Project and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Have a Safety Plan
Another important role as gatekeeper and ally is to empower children to follow a safety plan to help them relax and stay positive in a healthy way when life gets stressful. A safety plan can comprise a few important names, contacts and activities that a child can turn to when they recognize that they are struggling. Have your child keep a list of favorite things to do that make them happy; contacts of important people your child trusts; numbers for help like the Trevor Lifeline or numbers for a school counselor, local hospital or counseling center; and places they feel safe and can get to easily, like the YMCA, their church, their school, a hospital or the fire department.
Be an Ally
Our role as allies is to love and accept the youth in our lives, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. That love and acceptance extends to opening the door to help when a young person needs it. We all can speak out as allies to youth in crisis and, in turn, help save a life.