Psychology Today March/April 2020 pp46-48. Treatment Youth:Depression|Self-Harm “Why Kids’ Depression Goes Unnoticed”. “Parents miss signs of depression in their child far more than they realize. Even the most well-meaning can shut down communication in ways that subvert their good intentions”. By Alison Escalante, M.D.
Recent studies suggest that one in four middle school children know a peer suffering from depression and one in ten “knows one who has died from suicide”. Parents struggle trying to identify depression versus the normal ups and downs of childhood and often children are hiding their feelings-sometimes to protect parents from an extra burden.
Depression has “many different signs in different kids and isn’t always easy to spot”. Withdrawing from friends, spending too much time alone, being irritable or angry, behaving badly or “slacking off in school” may actually be signs of depression. Check in with school staff and teachers for feedback as needed.
So how can parents be more effective in trying to understand their child’s feelings?
Be a better listener by being less distracted when with your child-put down the cell phone etc. Listen for cues then stop what you are doing and engage. Listen and dialog to your children but don’t try and “fix them”. So often, even with adults, we want active listening but not a simple solution for what may be more deeply rooted. While it’s true that certain feelings are temporary and will pass, avoid dismissing concerns in this way. Instead check-in regularly to follow-up on prior conversations. Don’t be afraid that conversing will actually cause depression or make matters worse.
Early on in childrearing, elementary school-age, start building an open relationship “making it clear that it’s okay-indeed welcome-for your child to talk about feelings big and small. It may be helpful to share your own experiences “that make you frustrated, excited, or tearful and explain that expressing emotions is an important part of being human. “Tell them…you hope ….[they] will confide in you if they ever feel low”. Let them know they can discuss with their doctor, “trusted friend, relative or teacher”.