Parents face different challenges when parenting their depressed children.
No matter what parenting style they follow,
- Uninvolved Parenting,
- Permissive Parenting or
- Authoritarian Parenting,
challenges become bigger when dealing with a child with depression.
The most glaring mistake on a parent’s part could be failing to take expert help in dealing with their child’s depression. Depression is a serious illness, but it also is a treatable one.
Parents With Depressed Children
Childhood depression is real. Some studies show almost one in four young people experience depression before reaching 19 years of age. The American Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry estimates at least 5% of children between 13 and 18 years of age have had episodes of severe depression.
It is a serious health condition, which when untreated, poses risk of much more severe depression in future. It can be invisible and therefore, easy to miss.
Untreated depression in early age also increases the risk of suicide. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 24.
The critical question is what’s the role of parenting when the child is suffering from depression?
Here are 8 mistakes parents make when their child is in depression:
- Not acknowledging the depression
- Wrong choice of words with them
- Not reaching out to them on time
- Blaming them for their condition
- Showing them you are worried
- Not taking out time for them
- Talking more and listening less
- Not looking for professional help
Parenting Mistake #1. Not Acknowledging The Depression
A basic mistake parents make is to not acknowledge their child’s depressed state. Many parents do not understand how critical this can be for their child. They don’t just seem to take their child’s condition seriously.
Seeing the child sad and in low mood, even when they are in that state for most of their time, parents feel it’s just a part of their teenage years, and therefore, normal. This causes the child to bear all the pressure on their own and can even lead to something worse, as an intense emotional tear-down.
And even when the parents acknowledge their child’s continual sad state, they often can not fathom the seriousness of the situation. They do not see the problem as something that needs to be consulted with a medical expert. Instead, they feel the child’s condition will go away on its own.
As a result, parents would see their child going through prolonged distress and still feel it’s ordinary. This condition being continually ignored by the parents can make the child reach an extreme level of suffering, and manifest as:
- Excessive negative feelings
- Feeling trapped in their situation
Even just recognizing there’s some sort of suffering for their child, the parents can make the child feel a lot more secure and comfortable.
Parenting Mistake #2. Wrong Choice of Words With Them
Communication is perhaps the most critical aspect of treating depression. Whether the child makes a positive change depends on how they are approached with words. Some parents say such things to their child that not only doesn’t help them, but does hurt them too. As:
• You don’t look depressed, are you?
• Look on the bright side!
• It’s all in your head.
Those phrases indicate you are denying your child’s depression. And would only make the situation harder for your child. Your child may already know they should “look on the bright side,” but they are unable to because their mental state is not under their full control anymore.
What the parents should instead say to their depressed child are:
• I am here for you. Let me know what you want.
• Do you want to talk about anything?
• Can I be of any help?
Words as these would express your care for your child. They would understand you are present and around to help them. This would make the situation become a whole lot comfortable to them, and would help them open up to you little by little.
Another tip for parents is to take a careful look at the child’s face before starting a conversation, and say things depending on their mood at the time.
Here’s good guide by NHS on Talking To Children About Feelings.
Parenting Mistake #3. Not Reaching Out To Them On Time
Your child is young and doesn’t understand the complexity of his mental state. It could be your child isn’t even aware of what he’s suffering from.
In a situations as this, it’s your responsibility as a parent to keep an eye on their behavior changes. And reach out to them to ask what’s troubling them.
Often parents fail at this stage. They accept things just as they appear to be. They foster an elusive environment in their family, where everyone believes everyone else is fine and happy.
Be ready to pick up the signals even when what you notice seem small changes, as
- Losing interest in daily activities
- Not being as energetic as earlier
- Getting irritated at little things
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- School refusal and drop in academic performance
If you notice any of those symptoms, reach out to them and inquire about their feelings. By doing that, you’d create a sense of security for the child. They’d feel you notice them and care for their welfare. It’d be a step forward for them towards positivity and openness.
Another fact is, most of the time it’s easy to cope with depression when it’s in the early stages.
Thus noticing something amiss in your child’s behaviour and responding early would give you an edge to their better recovery.
Parenting Mistake #4. Blaming Them For Their Condition
Another worse but commonly made mistake parents make is they blame their children for their behavior. It generally comes from the fact that parents are the authority in the family and hence, they can’t be doing anything wrong. So, it’s always the children who blunder, not them.
But not everything that’s wrong can be their children’s fault. There can be hundreds of things to badly impact anyone’s mental health. Do not assume the child is doing it themselves.
Bullying and sexual abuse could be two of the gravest reasons to cause your child go into depression.
It’s also important to note while you may not be directly blaming your children for their condition, but you leave them subconscious clues to make them feel that way.
If they talk to you and say they’re feeling down and you respond saying: “Yeah! But who’s on his phone all day?” That exact moment, you’ve told your child it’s only them who are responsible for how they’re feeling.
Such bad and unhelpful response when given continuously can kick your child way beyond worse. Their feelings would stay “captured” inside their mind. And they’d stop sharing anything further with you, while bearing all of it alone.
Parenting Mistake #5. Showing Them You Are Worried
A common mistake done by many parents while helping their child deal with depression is to make it too obvious they’re worried. It is necessary to show you care for your child while listening to their suffering. But keeping up an expression of worry can make them sadder, or push them into a defensive position.
Just imagine how a child would feel, when they are already going through a phase of depression, if they see you being apprehensive for their condition. Your anxiety would only be another source of sadness for them.
Mostly, the children are so emotionally attached to their parents that a feeling of being the one to cause them anxiety can make them miserable. They might start blaming and beating themselves up.
What parents should do ideally is to not be anxious — or at least not to express it to the child — while putting their focus and energy into helping them cope with the depression.
Parenting Mistake #6. Not Taking Out Time For Them
While your child is in depression, one thing they need the most is your time and your availability.
One of the first feelings a person gets while in depression is of loneliness. It could well be so with your child, and they could be feeling lonely and insecure through their struggle.
That’s exactly why the experts promote the concept of ‘having someone to talk to.’ Because talking offers a way out of feeling alone and left out.
Even adults need some level of emotional support in their struggle with depression. And for children, it’s even harder to fight back depression if they do not have anyone to talk to.
You, as parent, will be having a lot of responsibilities to fill out the hours in your day. And, of course, it will not always be easy for you to take out extra time out for your child.
But you have to acknowledge your child is going through a hard and critical phase in his life, and needs you.
With some conscious effort, you’ll find ways to create time for the thing that matters the most now.
- Do you ask him how his day was?
- Are you there for him on the weekends?
- Do you set aside a part of your day to have some fun time with them?
- Do you often sit with them and listen to the things they want to talk about?
Thoughtful acts as these can create a huge uptick in their confidence in feeling you are there for them.
Parenting Mistake #7. Talking More, Listening Less
Parents need to get it that a child going through depression doesn’t have the same mental capacity as other children. You can’t point out the downsides of being sad to your child and expect them to be happier there on.
While parents spend a lot of time lecturing their kids, when actually they should listen more. A person in depression needs someone to talk to, more than somebody talking at them.
A depressed person can have a lot emotions caged inside. Anxiety, distress, confusion, and other feelings already wear out their mental strength. Having somebody they can open up to is what they need at the moment.
And when that depressed person is your child, they look up to you to express themselves. Your child doesn’t want you to point out over and over again what wrongs they have done to cause this emotional pain.
They don’t want you preaching them, whether you’re right or wrong.
Just having a 10-minute conversation with them could help relieve a big part of their anxiety. Ask them open questions as, “How do you feel?” And then let them express their feelings and condition on their own.
Parenting Mistake #8. Not Looking For Professional Help
Today, several organizations are working hard to raise awareness around mental health issues. They are active on all media to get the public to know how it can happen to anyone, and why it needs serious attention.
Yet, a lot of parents find it a stigma to look take their child to a mental health professional.
The reasons why parents do not seek professional help for their child’s depression could be:
- Not believing it to be a real illness
- Thinking they know the solution to it
- Not taking their child seriously
- Not wanting people to know about it
The reality is far different than what many parents tend to believe. Reaching out to a professional isn’t only beneficial, but a necessary step in most cases.
As parents, you would most likely take an emotional approach to your child’s depression. But the professionals would have an analytical and trained scientific approach to it. So the results they produce would be much more therapeutic for your child.
Depression isn’t always easy to spot in children, and parents need to keep an eye on their day-to-day behavior. Whenever they suspect something amiss in their child’s conduct, the best advice is to reach out to a professional.
Still, this can be a good guide to what not to do while parenting a child who might be going into depression. At the same time, we implore you to not wait for the issue to get sorted on its own. A timely recognition and treatment of depression can be life-changing and life-saving.
Parents play a vital supportive role in any treatment process. Research shows a social stigma and embarrassment are the two top reasons why young people with mental illness do not stick to their medicines and therapy.
So, once they are in therapy, you must be there for them, giving your time and effort to help them battle it out.
[Here’s a related article on Depression in Pregnancy.]
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Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog.
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