Q: When my 5-year-old son gets upset or frustrated, he often uses language like, “Nobody loves me,” or, “I should just kill myself.” He has big emotions across the board, and although I sometimes think he may be using this language to get a rise out of me and my husband (or to get attention), we always address it head-on. We’ll ask why he says such things, reassure him that we love him and redirect him to more positive activities. A healthy snack is often the best solution, so we already recognize that some of his frustration is driven by hunger.
After the outburst has passed, we’ll talk to him again about these self-harm-type statements. (We remind him that we all love him so much, highlight characteristics that make him special, ask whether he really wants to hurt himself, etc.) He often says he was just sad or angry and didn’t really mean it.
Clearly, this sort of language is alarming; you never want to hear your child say such things. He’ll occasionally thump his head on the bed mattress or couch cushion, but he has never actively hurt himself. Still, we monitor him very closely when he starts talking this way.