child with depression

How to Parent a Child with Depression

If you’re a parent, you may have noticed that your child’s emotions vary from day to day. Sometimes your child may seem happy-go-lucky without a care in the world. But the next, they are more reserved, isolated, and down. As a parent, this can be difficult to watch, as you only want your child to be happy and fulfilled in their life. As your kids get older and their problems become more complex. And you have to transition into more of a supporting role, which can be difficult. Depression in children is often undiagnosed and untreated. This is because symptoms are passed off as normal emotional and psychological changes that occur during the growth processes. The good news is that it’s getting easier to parent a child with depression because treatment is becoming more and more accessible.

Signs Your Child is Depressed

As a disclaimer, any of these signs can occur in children who are not depressed. However, if your child is showing a number of these things together, on a consistent basis, that should be a red flag. If your teen shows more than a few of these signs she may have depression that warrants professional attention. While you can’t make them want to get better, there are some things that you can do. And it starts with simply being there for them.

  • Has she been sad or irritable most of the day, most days in a week for at least two weeks?
  • Has he lost interest in things that he used to really enjoy?
  • Have her eating or sleeping habits changed?
  • Does he have very little energy, very little motivation to do much of anything?
  • Is she feeling worthless, hopeless about her future? Or guilty about things that aren’t her fault?
  • Have his grades dropped, or is he finding it difficult to concentrate?
  • Has she had thoughts of suicide? If so it’s crucial you have her evaluated by a mental health professional immediately. If the thoughts are really serious and there is an imminent threat, you will need to take her to an ER.

Be Supportive 

If you suspect that your child may be depressed, the most important thing you can do is work to strengthen your relationship. Do your best to build empathy and try looking at life from your child’s perspective. Yes, it may be frustrating to see your child down and irritable most of the time. And it can be especially frustrating if they aren’t doing anything to help themselves. But if they simply don’t have much in their life currently making them happy, it’s understandable they may be avoiding the things they used to enjoy. Especially if they are going through a big disappointment.

Remember, depression can make even the smallest tasks extremely difficult. Validation and affirmation are huge keys to help cope with depression. Make sure you are validating the emotions of your child rather than their behavior.

Focus on the Positive 

Depression is an island. If your child is depressed, they are going to feel a million miles away from you. And every negative will make them feel even further away from you. Make sure you recognize the positive things going on in their life. Even if it’s something you automatically expect from them. I’m sure you can relate to feeling unappreciated by someone you look up to and care about. Remind your child that they are doing a good job handling the stressors of growing up.

Ask yourself how many positive things have you said to your child today? How many negative things have you said? How many times have you highlighted her problems or tried to fix them? The positive should always outweigh the negative. Let her know that you’re proud of her, that she’s doing a good job if you see her taking care of herself. Be careful not to mention that you’re disappointed she isn’t hanging out with friends as much or taking the interest she used to in guitar, for example. She probably feels disappointed, too. And doesn’t need to be reminded of what’s not going well in her life. She doesn’t want to feel this way. If she could snap her fingers and feel better, she would.

Coping Skills and a Plan

Creating positive coping skills will last your child a lifetime. And the sooner you begin practicing them, the sooner your child can implement them into everyday life. Help them relax with both physical and creative activities. Find something they show interest or passion in and let it guide you. Help your teen look at problems in a different more positive way. Even try breaking them down into smaller steps so your child can be successful. Every small victory counts!

You should come up with a safety plan for the times when their emotions may feel out of control. Develop a list of people to call when their feelings get extremely low. Find safe activities to distract from their thoughts and emotions such as connect the dots or an adult coloring book. Practice breathing exercises and mindfulness activities to be more present in the moment rather than their mind. Keep important telephone numbers (like your child’s doctor, therapist, or local mental health crisis response team) somewhere easily accessible. This way they can utilize it in case you aren’t home.

Remember, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1 800-273-8255 or online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Getting Treatment for your Child with Depression

Some children will want to go to therapy when you ask them. Some won’t. Be aware that your teen might tell you to back off. This is their way of telling you that they need space. It’s normal for teenagers to want independence. And it’s important for you to respect that. You can respond by saying, “I’ll give you more space, but know that I’m here for you if you ever want to talk or hear my suggestions.”

If they do come to you wanting help, be prepared. Do your research. Find two or three therapists they can interview. And tell them that they can choose the one that they feel the most comfortable with. Finding a therapist who is a good fit is extremely important. If the choice is hers, it can help her feel ownership over her own treatment. This is extremely important and sets the stage for effective therapy.

It’s also important to know that there are many different kinds of therapy that might be helpful for your teen. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) have both been shown to be helpful for teenagers with depression. Make sure that your child has had a thorough evaluation that includes treatment recommendations to help guide you.

If You Need More Support, Call Us!

With the right treatment, love, and support your child can get through this. Don’t hesitate to seek professional help at any time. School staff, your child’s doctor or even clergy can be a good place to start. Find someone you feel comfortable working with. This is a difficult topic and you will need support along with your child.

We have several therapists on staff with significant experience in treating a child with depression. Connect with us in either of our locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients, so contact us here. And make sure to check out our videos to learn more about how we can help you parent your child with depression.

Crystal Norcott

Crystal Norcott received her Master’s Degree in Professional Counseling from Carlow University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a National Certified Counselor. She has been in the counseling profession for 10 years and has had a variety of clinical experiences. Her experiences include working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings including residential, school, community, and in the home. She has also worked with adults who may be experiencing a life event that they are struggling with, including but not limited to – addiction, depression, and anxiety.

Her counseling technique varies depending on the need and personality of the person, as there is no one technique that works for everyone. Don’t ever feel like you have to deal with life’s difficulties on your own.

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