(KUTV) — Heidi Swapp said since she lost her 16-year-old son Cory to suicide in 2015, she's been bombarded with emails and social media messages by parents who are worried about their own teens.
"I want them to feel they are not alone in their anxiety about their kids," Swapp said.
The mother of five spoke to a crowd of parents at the Herriman Fire station. She shared her story and what she's learned about the importance of connecting with your kids, so you can help them when they are in crisis.
Swapp said when kids are in crisis, they need parents to be like first responders , not first reactors.
She said if a firefighter or other first responder freaked out in response to someone's call for help, the victim wouldn't trust the first responder to help them.
It's the same with parenting.
If parents respond to a child's crisis -- bad grades, school suspension, drugs, depression -- by freaking out, the child will not trust the parent to help solve his or her problems.
"As parents we can stay calm and be reassuring even when they've done things that disappoint us," she said.
Family therapist David Kozlowski, who works with teens and has worked with Heidi Swapp and her family, said to make sure parents can help children who are in crisis, including kids who are suicidal, they have to make sure to establish a good connection with their kids.
That means, when kids are in trouble or make mistakes, don't start a conversation with questions like: "Why did you do that?" Or "What the hell were you thinking?"
Kozlowski said start the conversation with statements like:
"I don't know what happened but I know this isn't you." Or "We're going to figure this out."
"Questions are like a cancer. Statements are like a cure," said Kozlowski.
He said statements make a person feel validated and give them confidence that you can handle the situation.
Questions make a person feel ridiculed and shamed.
You can't ask a child if he or she is suicidal and get a genuine response if they don't feel you have a good connection and you can handle their response without freaking out.
You can't help a child combat depression if he doesn't have a good connection with people around him. People who are depressed or in any other crisis need a good support system to get better .
According to the Utah Department of Health, 33 Utah children ages 10-17 committed suicide in 2016.
Swapp said her son had been depressed for a long time. His behavior changed, he had trouble in school.
She tried everything she could to help him yet she doesn't know what exactly led to his suicide.
Since Cory's death, she has learned a lot through counseling and she's trying new ways to improve communication with her other children.
She wants to share what she's learned with other moms and dads.
Therapist David Kozlowski runs a family/teen support program called QuitTripn.org.