As kids grow, it’s normal for them to experience everyday emotions like sadness, irritation, and unhappiness. They’re humans, too, right? Yes, we all have bad days. But when their low mood lasts longer and starts to interfere with their daily life, it could point to a bigger problem. In this article, we’ll discuss how to recognize the signs of depression in kids, including providing tips to help them with their childhood depression. But before we dive in, remember that while depression is serious, it’s also highly treatable.
What Is Depression?
The Latin root word for depression is “to press down”. And this is the core of depression, a mood disorder that causes someone to feel down, hopeless, and sad. But it affects more than your mood. It can also negatively impact each area of your life, including your ability to care for yourself, relationships, sleep, eating, physical health, and day-to-day life. And to be diagnosed with depression, an individual must display recurring symptoms within a 2-week period that differ from general functioning.
How Common is Depression in Kids?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood depression, among several other disorders, including ADHD and anxiety, is the most prevalent disorder affecting children. In fact, by 2020, 2.4 million children were diagnosed with depression. And unfortunately, this number continues to rise. It is also important to note that children can experience depression and other disorders like anxiety or ADHD together. This refers to co-occurrence. Yet, in this case, mental health professionals can create treatment plans to address the symptoms and support children in their lives, no matter their age. If you believe your child also has anxiety, check out these coping mechanisms.
What Age Does Depression Manifest in Kids?
Depression affects children as young as three-years-old. Yes, you read that right. And while three years old is the lowest age at which depression appears, it doesn’t mean there aren’t risk signs before. This means children could, in fact, be identified with depression earlier than age three.
How to Recognize the Signs of Depression in Kids
If you think your child is depressed, here are a few common signs to observe, especially paying attention to whether or not any of these signs last longer than two weeks.
- Persistent sadness
- Noticeable increase in temper tantrums
- Low self-esteem
- Low energy
- Poor concentration
- Increased irritability
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Decreased interest in favorite activities
- Noticeable change in eating and sleeping behaviors
7 Tips to Help Kids with Depression
1. Communicate with them
One of the most common signs of depression in kids is low energy. You will notice a dramatic change in their habits and behaviors, especially their “shut-off manner”. For example, if you ask about their day, they may only give you a one-word answer. Yet they’re not trying to be defiant. They simply don’t have the energy or motivation to talk about their feelings. Despite this, you can get creative to keep the lines of communication open. And speaking to your child and offering support is critical. One way to do this is to encourage low-stress and low-effort activities like going to their favorite restaurant, walking, or watching an uplifting movie together. These activities will provide opportunities for your child to open up to you.
2. Validate their emotions
Once they talk to you, receive what they say with an open heart. For example, be mindful of your body language, tone of voice, and response despite what they say. There’s a high chance they may say something you may not want to hear. But in these moments, listening to them wholeheartedly and compassionately will make them feel safe, accepted, and supported. And when they talk, make it clear that there’s nothing they could say that would upset you or change how you see them. It will give them the confidence to talk about the pain points that are making their depression worse.
3. Build empathy
One of the best ways to help your child with depression is to build empathy. Indeed, they need you to try to understand what they’re experiencing. And if you can’t completely understand why they have depression, try to see it from their perspective. Walk in their shoes. Depression is a debilitating disorder that makes even the smallest of things challenging. Therefore, be there, empathize and offer compassion, especially on their toughest days.
4. Refrain from criticism
You may become frustrated or annoyed that your child is irritable or struggles to complete their chores, homework, or responsibilities. But criticizing them or yelling at them won’t help them. It will make things far worse. Instead, offer suggestions that might brighten their mood. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been quite sad lately. Maybe you should go to the park with your friend.” This suggestion offers support and compassion without coming across as harsh or pushy.
5. Reinforce their positive behavior
While it’s easy to focus on what your child isn’t doing, focus more on their positive behavior. For example, even getting out of bed and brushing their teeth are wins. Depression makes every task difficult. It’s almost like you’re moving through molasses, and every movement exerts so much mental and physical energy. Therefore, reinforce positive behavior through positive affirmation. Remind them of your love, pride, and gratitude. Children, like adults, like to be reminded of the positive things they’re doing, even if it’s expected.
6. Do your research
Learning about depression will help your family two-fold. It will help you build empathy, and it will help you understand that the cause of their depression is no one’s fault. It’s common for parents to internalize their child’s experiences. They may enter a thought trap of should of’s and blame themselves for their child’s mental state. But depression is a highly prevalent disorder with several causes that are out of your control, including family history, genetics, and stressful events. Therefore, when you learn more about depression, you’ll receive information that will help you and your family make positive changes in your child’s treatment.
7. Be patient
Lastly, be patient. Treating depression can be a long journey. So, don’t expect big changes overnight. It’s a series of small steps that need acknowledgment. Your little one is doing the best they can. They’re experiencing a severe disorder during their development which makes things more complicated. They haven’t completely understood the full spectrum of emotions and how we all go through waves of ups and downs. As a result, be their #1 fan through every part of their journey.
Remember, depression is a common disorder affecting children as young as three years. Therefore, keep an eye out for signs of depression in kids, and if you suspect they have depression, speak to a mental health professional as early as possible. Early treatment will help your child receive the support they need.
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