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Our nine-year-old daughter recently saw her mother pick up a kitchen knife and try to injure herself after an argument with me. Nothing serious happened, and I stopped my wife (she has done this before, she tends to be dramatic, but never in front of the child). But our daughter has been tense and asked about it weeks later. My wife simply denied that there was any such incident, and maintained that she was just cleaning the knife and testing its sharpness or some such thing. At one time, she told our daughter that it was to get me to pay attention to what she was saying. She insists that I too maintain this position. What do you advise?

Your family needs to see a counsellor, perhaps your wife needs to see a psychiatrist, to determine the nature and depth of the problem. It is extremely unfortunate that your child was witness to this episode, and to completely deny it or tell her a “cleaned up" version of what happened is only playing with her mind further.

Children tend to be traumatized by what they have seen, and emotionally confused when the issue is given a spin of this kind. Just insisting “it was nothing" is unlikely to have calmed her. Worse, you are also nullifying what she clearly understood to be a moment of great anger, pain and desperation in the adults around her, and encouraging her to pretend that it was simply normal household activity. Surely we have to give our children more credit than to treat them like fools.

Your wife may be deeply embarrassed at what she did or the fact that the child witnessed this action, and that’s why the cover-up. But by your behaviour, you are trying to co-opt the girl into a state of denial, as if there is no problem at all. A few more episodes of this kind, and you will be laying the foundation of mental ill health for your child.

If your wife is not willing, or is unable, to give the child some kind of explanation for what happened, it falls on you to do so. Just between the two of you, perhaps, you could let your daughter express her shock and fear and then tell her that her mother is currently not feeling so good, and that you will soon be seeking help for her.

It is a great disservice to a child to expect her to pretend that there is nothing wrong in the home. If your wife is going through a bad mental health phase, you need to be stable, reassuring and truthful with your child, and seek help for all of you.

Gouri Dange is the author of More ABCs Of Parenting and ABCs Of Parenting.

Also Read Gouri’s previous Lounge columns

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