When You Child Said, "I Wish I Wasn't Born"

Understanding and Responding to Them


9/6/202310 min read

girl sitting on vehicle seat while looking at window
girl sitting on vehicle seat while looking at window

Parenthood is a journey filled with ups and downs, and sometimes, our children say things that stop us in our tracks.

My wife recently shared with me that our eldest, a seven-year-old, mentioned that she wished she wasn't born. It's one of those moments that can send shockwaves through any parent's heart.

My wife's immediate response was to reassure her that she was glad our daughter was born and that her birth brought immense joy to our lives.

She kept prompting her on why she said such things but my girl was quite incomprehensible in expressing her feelings. So we could only do the guessing game.

  • Is it because she finds it hard in school?

  • Is she bullied in school?

  • Could it be her issue with learning Chinese and how stern her Chinese teacher is?

  • Is it because she has a hard time making friends?

  • Did she feel left out due to her younger sister?

  • Did we place too many responsibilities and expectations on her just because she is an older child?

  • Was it because life is no longer easy since she started primary school?

However, later on, we both reflected on the situation and wondered if there was a better way to handle it. Did our daughter have deeper feelings or thoughts that we should have explored?

This incident prompted me to delve into the topic of how to respond when children express such sentiments. What should we do if our kids say things like, "I wish I wasn't born" or even "I wish I was dead" in the future?

Understanding Their Perspective: The Concept of Death

Let's dive into the intriguing world of how kids perceive something as complex as death.

First, we've got to remember that young children, due to where they are on their brain development journey, don't quite get death in the same way grown-ups do. It's not that 'end of the road' idea for them.

For many little ones, death is more like someone going 'poof,' disappearing, or just not being around anymore. These are simpler, more graspable notions that their growing brains can wrap around.

Now, when a child drops a line like not wanting to be born or exist, it's time to channel our inner detectives. You see, it might not mean they're thinking about death like we do. More often, it's their way of saying, 'Hey, I'm not feeling so great right now.'

Maybe school feels like trying to climb a huge, scary mountain, or they're facing activities that are like a rollercoaster of nerves. In their little minds, not being born might seem like a magical escape from these tough spots. But here's the twist – their words aren't carrying the same weight as an adult's.

As the grown-ups in the room, our job isn't just to hear the words but to dig deeper. It's like a dance of understanding and empathy, where we're trying to uncover what's really going on inside that little mind of theirs.

Think of it as solving a puzzle; it takes patience and a big heart to get it right.

Now, here's the thing – sometimes, young children do surprise us and grasp the finality of death. So it's essential to keep an open mind and really listen, without assuming what they should or shouldn't know.

How to Respond: Being There For Your Child

grayscale photography of woman carrying girl
grayscale photography of woman carrying girl

Alright, so your child's said something that's got you worried. What do you do next? Here are some steps that might help:

1. Stay Calm:

Your child's words can really throw you for a loop, I get it. But here's the thing – your reaction matters big time. If you go all panicked or angry, it can make your child clam up, and we definitely don't want that.

Think of it this way: Your calmness is like a reassuring signal to your child. It's like saying, 'Hey, I'm here for you, and I'm not freaking out.' This actually encourages them to open up more and share what's on their mind.

Imagine you're a steady rock in the midst of their emotional storm. When everything around them feels chaotic, your composure becomes their safe haven. So, when those tough words come your way, take a deep breath and remember that your calmness can be like a warm, welcoming hug for them.

2. Encourage Communication:

This is where we create an environment where your child feels like their thoughts and feelings really matter.

First things first, they need to know you're not just some ears attached to a head; you're an eager listener who genuinely cares about what's going on in their little noggin and heart.

One trick to spark up conversation is using open-ended questions. Instead of throwing out questions that can be answered with a simple 'yes' or 'no,' go for ones that make them spill the beans.

For example, instead of the classic 'Did something happen at school?' you might roll with 'Can you tell me what happened at school today?' This kind of question encourages them to get chatty and share all the juicy details.

You've got to show a real, sincere interest in what they're saying. When you do that, you're basically telling them, 'Your feelings and experiences matter.' It's like giving them a big ol' green light to talk about their thoughts and emotions.

Think of your genuine curiosity as a magic key that unlocks the door to their inner world. When they see that you're truly interested in what they have to say, it builds trust.

They'll start seeing you as someone they can confide in, and that's a pretty amazing thing, don't you think?

3. Acknowledge Their Feelings:

When your child drops a bombshell like this, the last thing you want to do is brush it off or pretend it's not a big deal. Instead, you want to show them that their feelings are valid and that you're there to support them through it.

So, here's the deal: Start by acknowledging what they're going through. You can say something like, 'It sounds like you're really frustrated or upset right now,' or 'I can see that you're feeling like everyone is against you.' By putting a name to their emotions, you're letting them know that you're dialed into their inner world.

But let's say they go a step further and express not wanting to be alive. That's when you've got to dig even deeper with empathy. Ask them, 'What's been bothering you so much? Can you tell me what's on your mind?' This approach encourages them to open up about what's really going on inside.

Take your time to explore the root of their distress. Ask questions like, 'Tell me what's been happening lately. Did something go down at school that's been bugging you?' The goal here is to create a safe space where they feel comfy sharing their experiences and concerns.

Not only does this help them feel better, but it also gives you a clearer picture of their world. It's like turning on a light in the darkness, helping both of you navigate through these tough moments together.

4. Create a Safe Space:

Establishing a safe and nurturing environment is paramount when your child confides in you.

First off, let them know that your relationship is like their safe haven. It's the place where they can spill their thoughts and feelings without worrying about being judged or criticized. Tell them that you're their trusted ally in this wild journey called life.

Here's the golden rule: Every emotion they feel is totally okay. There are no 'wrong' feelings here. Whether they're dealing with something huge or just a tiny blip on life's radar, it's all worthy of discussion. This is the stuff that builds a rock-solid bond between you and your child and keeps the lines of communication wide open.

Think of this safe space like a cozy, magical retreat. When life gets too crazy and overwhelming, they can escape to this place – your presence.

They'll know that you're always there, ready to listen with an open heart and provide comfort whenever they need it. It's like their secret hideaway where they're always welcome, no matter what.

5. Soothe Their Feelings:
a woman in a military uniform hugging a little girl
a woman in a military uniform hugging a little girl

Now, let's talk about comforting your child when they're really upset. Sometimes, words alone just won't cut it – they might need a big, warm hug to make things better. Here's how to go about it:

If your daughter is feeling super upset, say something like, 'You sound really upset, come on over here and let's have a big hug.' This simple gesture can work wonders in soothing their emotions.

Imagine it like this: You're creating a safe, cuddly cocoon where they can let it all out. Let them have a good cry on your shoulder while you listen and comfort them. It's like giving their feelings a soft place to land.

Sometimes, a hug can say more than words ever could. It's your way of telling them, 'I'm here for you, and I've got your back no matter what.' So don't underestimate the power of a good old-fashioned cuddle – it's like a magic spell for their hearts.

6. Helping Her Calm Down:

Now, let's explore some strategies to help your daughter find her calm in the storm of emotions.

One of these is mindfulness, which can be super useful for kids and adults alike. It might take a little practice, but it's worth it – especially if you incorporate it into your daily routine, like listening to a mindfulness CD as part of your bedtime ritual.

Once it becomes a habit, you can suggest it to your daughter when she's really upset. You might say something like, 'Let's take a pause and do a few mindful breaths together... now, tell me how you're feeling.' It's like hitting the emotional reset button.

Another great way to calm those stormy emotions is through physical activity. How about bouncing on the trampoline for 10 minutes or taking a leisurely walk around the block or in the garden while you chat? Moving their body can help them process their feelings.

And hey, distraction can be a powerful ally too. You could introduce a relaxing activity, like watching TV or listening to some soothing music for a few minutes before you dive into the conversation. It's like giving their mind a breather before tackling the tough stuff.

7. Promote Emotional Intelligence:

It's like arming them with a toolkit for understanding and handling their feelings like a pro.

Start by teaching them about different emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, excitement – and how to recognize them. You can use fun games or stories to make it engaging.

Next, show them that feelings are totally normal and that everyone has them. Let them know that it's okay to feel whatever they're feeling, and there's no such thing as a 'wrong' emotion.

Now, it's time to dive into the cool part – how to deal with these emotions in healthy ways.

You can teach them simple techniques like taking deep breaths when they're upset or using words to express what they're feeling. It's like giving them a superhero suit for navigating the world of emotions.

And remember, this is an ongoing process, like a journey of self-discovery. The more they understand their feelings, the better they'll become at expressing themselves and handling life's ups and downs like a champ.

8. Watch Out for Signs of Trouble:

Now, here's a little detective work for us grown-ups. Sometimes, when kids say things like not wanting to be born, it can be a signal that something bigger is going on in their world – like bullying at school or loads of stress at home.

So, keep your radar on high alert for any signs that might point to trouble. Maybe your child seems more withdrawn than usual or they've been having a tough time at school. Perhaps they're not sleeping well or their appetite has changed.

If you notice any of these signs, don't hesitate to dig a little deeper. Talk to your child and ask open-ended questions about what's been bothering them. Sometimes, all they need is someone who cares enough to ask and listen.

It's like being their superhero protector, ready to swoop in and save the day if they need it.

Signs to look for:

  • Sleep patterns or appetite changes

  • Behavioural shifts

  • Social withdrawal

  • Giving away favourite personal items

  • Mysterious crying

  • Uncharacteristic moodiness, tiredness, or irritability

  • School troubles especially drop in grades

  • Self-harming

9. Remind Them of Your Love:
woman kiss a baby while taking picture
woman kiss a baby while taking picture

Finally, never forget to shower your child with love and reassurance. They need to hear it, and they need to feel it.

Tell them often how much you love them and that you're there for them, no matter what. These words can be like a warm, cozy blanket on a chilly night, providing comfort and security.

And don't underestimate the power of physical affection. Sometimes, a big hug or cuddle can speak volumes, letting your child know that your love is as boundless as the sky.

In the grand adventure of parenting, love is your trusty sidekick, always ready to save the day and make everything better.

10. Seek Professional Help if Needed:

Alright, superheroes, we've covered a lot of ground, but here's the thing – sometimes, even superheroes need backup.

If your child's statements about not wanting to be born persist, or if you sense they're really going through a tough time, it might be time to call in some experts – like child psychologists or therapists.

These professionals are like the superheroes of the emotional world.

They're specially trained to understand and help kids and parents navigate through challenging times. They have a bag full of super tools and strategies to make things better.

Don't hesitate to reach out to them if you feel your child needs extra support.

It's a bit like calling the Bat-Signal when Gotham City is in trouble – you're doing what's best to ensure your child's well-being and happiness.


Summing it up, when your little one drops a line like, 'I wish I wasn't born,' here's the playbook: be the empathetic, understanding MVP with wide-open ears.

Keep in mind, their view on life and death isn't the grown-up version, and their words could be their ticket to Expressville for complicated feelings.

By weaving that safe and cozy space, we're their trusty co-pilots on the rollercoaster of childhood, steering them through loops and spirals with oodles of love and support.

With love,