There is a difference between merely thinking about suicide and planning it, and then attempting it. That doesn't mean you can take this piece of this puzzle less seriously though. With the exception of a very impulsive suicidal gesture, some thought and planning almost always goes into suicidal acts. This is called suicidal ideation. These are the thoughts about suicide and the game plan for dying that many depressed individual's experience. They do not always lead to suicide, however, but people who have suicidal ideation are more likely to attempt suicide. So these thoughts and plans cannot be overlooked or dismissed.
Although suicide is most rare in very young children, it does not mean they don't think about it! Again, it is normal for children to think about death. A depressed child, however, can become preoccupied with death and dying. This is why you must be on the lookout for risky, self-destructive behaviors and statements like those listed above. Talking to your child and getting help at this point is an excellent way to diffuse those feelings.
Is it true that children who say they wish to die never commit suicide?
That is a myth! Children who discuss wanting to kill themselves are at just as great a risk as children who remain silent. Her statements might be a cry for help or something much more serious. In either case, check them out.
Should I Ignore It?
Many parents believe that giving attention to these thoughts and behaviors is likely to increase their frequency. Not true! The child who makes a vague statement aimed at trying to make you feel bad or to guilt you into something should not be allowed to get away with this behavior. Make it clear to her that you would be very sad if she meant what she'd said and that she will not gain anything from you if she is using it as a weapon. She needs to understand that you do not take these comments lightly but that you won't give in either.
If your child is making these statements or engaging in self-destructive behaviors, particularly when there is nothing to gain, you should take her seriously. If she laughs you off and claims you are overreacting, resist the urge to believe her. Keep on the alert until you feel comfortable that she is okay.
In terms of suicidal ideation, it's sometimes hard to distinguish the idle threat versus a real one. If this is where you find yourself, then err on the side of caution. Talking to your child about suicide does not cause suicide!
The other part of suicidal ideation, planning, becomes more dangerous. A child with a plan is one step closer to being able to commit the act. When a child is asked about his plan, it is often vague. “Oh, I'd drink something,” or “I might take some pills.” There are three hypotheses at work here. He may be crying out for help, and rather than ask straight out he will try this more emphatic approach. He may be in the beginning stage of making a plan and just hasn't gotten that far with it yet. Or he may be lying and may have a much more elaborate plan that he doesn't wish to share with you.
Does it matter which hypothesis is true? No! If there's a plan, there's a problem. Even if it is a cry for attention, it is a pretty serious way to do it, and whether he is depressed or not, this behavior needs to be addressed.