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I have decided to move out of my abusive marriage of 11 years, and shift to another city, with the support of family members, including my husband’s sister. My eight-year-old son used to be attached to his father but, after witnessing the cycle of abuse, he stopped interacting with him a year back. I had even attempted suicide once when my son was only five-and-a-half-years-old, I’m not sure whether or not he knows about it.

During a recent phone conversation with someone about the difficulties of my son’s admission at a new school, he came up to me and said: “Why don’t we both commit suicide?". I tried explaining to him that it is not the right option and we must not anger the gods by harbouring such thoughts. When I took him to a counsellor, he said that he “was just fooling". How should I ensure that such thoughts don’t occur to him again?

From an early age, your child has probably been experiencing—on your behalf—fear, rage, helplessness and vulnerability towards the abusive parent. While he might have astounded the counsellor by calling it “fooling around", he is just not ready or able to talk about the turmoil within. It is more than likely that he has a pretty good idea about your suicide attempt—people do talk loosely about these matters in families, and children tend to pick these signs up, even if not the details of the attempt.

The onus is now squarely on you, perhaps you too can take the help of a counsellor in this regard. Create a realistic and positive atmosphere for the two of you; a new beginning, one where you are no longer trapped in a corner, with the only way out being self-destruction.

You need to communicate clearly through words, thoughts and actions to yourself, your child and to those around you, that you now have choices, and a good amount of control on your life. There will be ups and downs and adjustments to be made, but your attitude should be a solution-oriented one. This will be a key element in getting your child to, slowly but surely, discard his deeply ingrained “no way out" mindset.

Do not feel guilty or be stricken by his statement—take it seriously and proactively, demonstrate by example that there is no need to feel or think in this doomed way, but do not torture yourself with guilt. That would only add another layer of anxiety in the equation, and prevent him from speaking his mind or expressing fears.

As for telling children that gods will be angry with them for thinking of death, this is too abstract a concept for a child who is floundering emotionally. Tell him, instead, that his father’s behaviour, that you suffered, does not define either of your lives; that your lives are precious not just for the each of you, but also for those close to you—friends, grandparents, etc. That’s a more nourishing thought to start with.

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

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