Depressed children and teenagers are very vulnerable and often very difficult to handle. Parents and siblings need to learn how to deal with them. Here are some ways in which parents, caretakers, siblings and teachers can handle depressed children:
• Learn about depression: Parents ought to do research, and know everything about depression in order to recognize the signs of depression early. The earlier the parents know about depression, the better they will know how to react and help their children deal with depression.
• Parent-child talk: This is perhaps the most important of the things a parent needs to do in order to understand their children better. Parents should encourage their children to open up and talk to them about their feelings, as concealed thoughts are the harbinger for depressed moods. Even if the child has not been diagnosed with depression, it is useful for parents to talk to their children about a wide range of issues, including sexuality.
• Emotional support to the depressed children: Children with depression are easily irritable and therefore are easily angered. Most of them feel awkward to talk or consult their parents concerning their problems. Parents ought to wear an “approachable face,” remain calm, but firm and fair, and yet considerate and consistent to not lose control. These children cannot handle false accusations, and therefore if a parent is wrong about anything concerning the child’s behavior, it is better to admit it.
• Active as opposed to passive listening: It is said that “a problem shared is a problem half-solved.” This is true in teenagers who are depressed. They do look for attention, and actively listening to them can help a great deal in understanding their feelings. Active listening involves adopting a relaxed sitting position, maintaining eye-contact at all times, and asking open-ended questions; not those merely requiring “Yes” or “No” answers. it is important to also show interest in the topic being discussed. This way the teenager is most likely to open up and discuss his or her feelings without feeling locked out emotionally.
• Grant the children and teenagers their wishes: A depressed child or teenager does not behave so because they like it, they are driven to a depressed mood by inner thoughts and emotions. They need the utmost support, and therefore parents could consider granting them whatever kind of service they require (within reason). Merely telling them to “cheer-up” or to “snap-out” of their depressed moods does them no favor.
• Reassurance and comforting tactics: Depressed children are scared by their own emotions and may feel rejected, useless, worthless, hopeless and bored. Parents must find a way to reassure them of their support and love, and comfort them whenever they need it. Other family members must also learn to comfort these children to enable them to deal with their stressors.
• Do not disregard a child’s feelings: In as much as children are young and naïve, their feelings mean as much to them as yours do to you. Any signs of disregard for these young minds can lead to disastrous outcomes; including self-harm and suicide attempts. When children show or communicate their feelings, they should be interpreted correctly and responded to accordingly.
• Get the services of a mental health professional: Every clinically depressed child should have a personal mental health professional, preferably a pediatric psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker. This can help with early diagnosis and treatment of depression. Even when in school or college, the children should be able to access the services of a counselor or a local therapist. Teenagers can go for these services by themselves, and their parents ought to accompany them for the first visit, unless the teenager does not approve of this.
An exercise to try with your child at home:
If your child occasionally gets sad or moody, and you feel you might be able to engage him or her in conversation, here is one exercise you might try:
When you are sitting with your child, ask him/her what the feeling is that is the strongest right now.
“Are you sad, or hurt; or what feeling would you describe that you are having right now?” ___________________
Ask your child to give a name to that feeling. It can be a person’s name, or a thing’s name or even a silly, bizarre made up name. (My friend often uses the name “Ebeneezer” to describe his feelings.) From that point on, you only discuss the feeling with its “given name.”
Ask your child what __________ is trying to tell you? Ask if there is anything that you (the child) can do to get rid of ____________? Encourage your child to talk to the “given name” while in your presence.
This is an exercise that takes time and practice, but usually nets a better understanding of the cause of the mood, or sadness. Age doesn’t matter with this exercise, but it is much more helpful with depression that is not clinical, but the kind that we all get occasionally.
It is also interesting to get your child to see if the sadness, or hurt feelings, or depression resides somewhere in the body. If they find that it is located in the stomach, for example, then all discussion with that “given name” could be done with the child’s hand on the stomach. This can be very insightful for a child or teenager to notice that depression seems to always settle in one place in the body.
This article is taken from the book “Overcoming Self-Esteem Problems in Teens and Pre-Teens: A Parent’s Guide,” by Dr. Richard L. Travis.
This book is part of a series of books for parents of Teens and Pre-Teens called “Dr. T’s Living Well Series,” by Dr. Richard L. Travis.
The series contains books for Parents on ADHD, Anxiety, Depression, Obesity, Anger, Drug and Alcohol Problems, Low Self-Esteem, and Trauma and Loss. There are also books on Addictions in different careers, Sexual Identity, and Gay Relationships and Guided Imagery.
Visit www.LivingWellSeries.com to see more information on these books.