Because my daughter, Martha Corey-Ochoa, died of suicide at eighteen, I am obviously the last person in the world to give advice on how to prevent suicide: I tried and I failed.
But I am an expert on raising children who are mortal, which is to say, all children. Though most people don't expect to outlive their children, the truth is that some parents will. Usually, there is no way to know in advance whether you will be one of those parents. So my advice is to act as if you might lose your child any day. Then, if you do lose your child, you will have little to regret. And if you don't, you will have had a wonderful relationship with your child, as I had with Martha.
This is what I recommend:
1. Love your child. This should come naturally, but it can sometimes be forgotten. Remember it.
2. Spend as much time as possible with your child. I know, you have other obligations--making a living, doing housework, spending time with yourself, your spouse, your friends. But childhood goes by so quickly, and if you lose your child, every moment you spent enjoying her company will be worth more to you than anything else you ever did.
3. Keep discipline humane and rare. I believe most children sometimes need to be corrected and, occasionally, punished, so that they will grow up well-mannered and moral. I never used spanking or other corporal punishment, and I don't think it's necessary. But however you discipline. realize that if you lose your child, you will have to answer to yourself for every punitive thing you ever did. You will want every corrective action to have been justified and decent, and you won't want such actions to dominate your memories.
4. Listen to your child with empathy and without judgment. I tried to do that, and the result was that Martha could come to me with almost any problem, without fearing that I would dismiss her, put her down, or use it as an opportunity to talk about myself. One of my greatest sources of consolation is that she trusted me to listen to her.
5. Forgive. As loving as she was, even Martha sometimes did things that made me mad. Once, shortly before her death, she did something that angered me to the extent that I was cold to her for several days. She noticed, and begged me to forgive her, and I did. Now I can only recognize that I wasted those days in coldness. I am grateful that such incidents were rare, and that most of the time I forgave her her trespasses at once, without her having to ask me. Forgive your child, just as you would want her to forgive you.
6. Help your child be who she is. The loss of a child has a way of concentrating your mind on whether, in the long run, you were an obstacle to her growth and development as a unique person with unique talents, or a help. I can say, with rare exceptions, I helped Martha, encouraging her in whatever good thing she wanted to do, not trying to make her into someone she wasn't. I let her have freedom, and even though her freedom ended in her death, I will never regret that she lived and died free.