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How to Prevent Depression in Children
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Depression in children is as real as it is for teens and adults. While the rate of depression in children is lower than
for teens and adults,
[1][2]
it is possible for preschoolers to suffer from depression and it is not unusual to find
symptoms of depression in children aged from 6 to 12.
[3]
From ages 9 to 12, it is thought that 12 percent of
children can suffer from depression.
[4]
Knowing how to prevent depression in children you are responsible for can help to ensure that they do not suffer
from this debilitating mental health illness and give them a firmer grounding for dealing with their emotions early
on. While there is no guarantee that a child won't get depression, a child whose parents or guardians are actively
on the alert for preventing depression can do a lot to keep it at bay or deal with it should it arise.
Steps
1. Be aware that children will often try to mask things that hurt them. Children can be prone to covering
their anger or sadness by putting on a brave, tough, or aggressive front to cope better. This can make it
harder to tell that they are suffering from depression and they may indeed receive many other labels
instead (such as "naughty", "misbehaving", "difficult", etc.), an approach that simply makes things worse
for them.
2. Listen to your child. It can be very easy to be caught up in day-to-day living and to forget how important it
is to listen to the children in our care. They are honest, forthright, and speak as they see things. What they
have to say will tell you much about their state of feelings should you be prepared to listen carefully and
often. Avoid brushing off their concerns; instead, be prepared to speak openly with them at the time that
they raise issues. If it is not the right time, simply say that the two of you need to talk about the matter
"after dinner", or "later today" and be sure to follow up when you said you would.
Avoid making comments like "that's silly" or "that's your own fault". These sorts of dismissive
comments can quickly build into a sense of worthlessness and blame.
As part of your active listening, be alert to the things your child is not saying and be prepared to
raise topics that a child may find embarrassing or difficult to raise themselves. This can help to
remove the mask of superficial confidence when they have been hurt or scared by something or
someone.
3. Establish routine and predictability in your child's life.
[5]
A major factor for triggering depression is
when routines are messed up and children no longer feel that they're able to predict what is about to
happen next. Even if you are in the middle of great change, be sure to maintain as many routines as
possible that the child can relate to and follow with ease. Things like the same bedtime, the same
breakfast time, and ensuring that homework is completed during a set time, are all things that can be
maintained through most times of the year.
Children who are constantly over-tired can become depressed.
[6]
Be careful about allowing children
to stay up late during vacation time; if you notice tiredness becoming an issue, ensure that regular
bedtimes are reinstalled.
4. Notice all the good your child does. Praise your child for efforts well done and for their thoughtfulness.
Recognize when your child has done well and celebrate their achievements.
This is a much better approach to raising a child than always telling your child what they cannot do.
While obvious boundaries have to be set when disciplining a child, focusing on the good things your
child does is a much more positive way to improve your child's sense of well-being.
5. Be available. A secure and happy child is one who is assured that the people who care for them are
available. Simple things like hugs, giving time for talking together, helping with the homework, having them
help with the dinner, etc., create bonding times and let your child know that you will be about when they
need you to talk with. And while it's hard to spend time with your kids when you're busy, children are not
mature enough to understand the constant pressures of an adult's life. Including your child in your daily
routine is an excellent way of getting around the "I have no time" challenge; if you cannot find time to sit
down and read together, ask your child to join in on the household chores you need to do and use this time
to connect. It won't harm them to learn such activities and it can be a time just for the two of you.
Remember the power of hugs and cuddles. Often these can do more to reassure a child than any
words.
6. Always confirm your child's feelings. One of the simplest but most effective things that you can do is to
tell you child that you can see how they feel. This is confirmation that their hurt, pain, or disappointment is
real, and that these feelings do matter. By being open with them rather than pretending things will be okay,
you allow them to feel the negative feelings and then pass through them.
Keep it simple. Say things like: "I can see that has upset you a lot and that you are sad."
At the same time, realize that you cannot stop a child's disappointment. Life will always disappoint
us somewhere along the way. What is important is to let your child learn to handle disappointment
and to learn resilience through knowing that you are there for them and that you care about their
pain.
7. Avoid badgering children about their negative feelings. Children will tell you what they think makes
sense in their own words. Unlike adults, they don't feel they need to analyze things in great detail because
they're much more accepting of how the world is. Once an adult starts to badger a child with lots of
questioning and demands for "why" they feel the way they do, a child will close up and feel that they aren't
measuring up to your demands. This can make them question their own feelings and start to feel less
desirous of talking to you about them. Take a leaf from their book and accept that your child has these
feelings without having to go into great detail.
One way that might help a child to express their feelings is through drawing. Perhaps offer them
drawing materials and let them know they can "draw their feelings" out if they want to.
8. Seek to reduce conflict in the home situation. Children who are subjected to constant home conflict are
at high risk of suffering from depression.
[7]
They are not able to solve the problem by leaving and are
constantly subjected to seeing other people not getting along in one way or another and this causes them
to feel fear, sadness, and anger. Ultimately, withdrawal makes sense to them and can leave them in a
depressed state.
If any family members are having a difficult time relating to other members of the family or are
suffering from depression or other health problems, seek help immediately. Know that your own
inter-personal conflicts and your own health problems can easily impact children in your care; the
sooner you get help, the sooner for everybody involved.
Never let your own inter-personal conflicts or illness be taken out on a child. The child is innocent,
and placing a sense of blame or responsibility on the child for your own inabilities and problems is
just plain wrong. Never make a child feel like they are a failure in your eyes.
Shield a child from family members who are unkind or thoughtless in their attitude or words. Stand
up to this person and ask them to reconsider the way in which they talk to or deal with the child.
Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse all prime a child for depression.
[8]
Never place a child in a
situation where they experience abuse of any kind and if you discover a child is at the receiving end
of such abuse, act quickly to have them removed from the source.
9. Know about family tendencies toward depression. A history of other family members suffering from
depression should be a warning signal for you as a parent or guardian. While your child may not get
depression, it is important to be alert to the possibility as genetic factors can bring about depression under
the right circumstances. In fact, if one parent has experienced depression, the chances of a child having
depression are 25 percent; this increases to 75 percent where both parents have experienced
depression.
[9]
Family members who are abusing alcohol or drugs can also cause depression in children.
[10]
If you
or any other family member has a problem with such substances, seek help immediately.
In the case of a very raised potential for depression, consider preventive therapy for your child, such
as a support group that targets kids with anxieties and teaches them coping methods, etc.
[11]
10. Help your child learn what to do in the case of bullying or abuse outside the home. Let your child
know that they can always come to you for advice and that they have every right to tell someone if
something bad happens to them. Have discussions about how it is wrong for anyone to bully another
person and that if they experience bullying that they must tell someone about it so that the bully can be
stopped.
11. Be on high alert when moving home or changing anything drastically in daily routines, such as
school, careers, etc. These can be prime times for disrupting what your child is used to and if your child
perceives the change badly, this might lead to depression. Be sure to spend time talking to your child
about upcoming changes and to find ways together for alleviating the painfulness of the change. For
example, if moving house, let them decorate their new room or let them choose a new pet as ways of
making it seem more acceptable.
Immigrant families can experience depression in their children.
[12]
The fear of the new and unknown
can sit heavily on a child, especially when trying hard to stay strong for their parents' sake. In this
situation, spend a lot of time explaining the good of the move and how the new life in a new country
will ensure that the whole family benefits. Point out the good of going to a new school, making new
friends, being able to spend time in the park, with pets, and doing fun things together. If you've
come from a war-torn zone, talk about how much safer the new country is.
12. Look after a child with great care during times of grief. The loss of a family member, a friend, or a pet
can impact a child far more gravely than it may seem on the surface. Remember again that many children
are prone to put on a brave face so that they do not upset other family members, and yet inside they can
be hurting deeply. Just as with adults, children experience grief differently and as their carer, you need to
be alert to the nuances of their grieving. Take time to talk to them often about how they're feeling and
coping, and if you don't think that things are improving, consider speaking with a mental health
professional or you doctor for more advice.
This applies equally to the situation of divorce or separation. Children can often see the problems
that lead to the break-up but this doesn't make it any easier for them, and often they will be wishing
things can go back to the way they were. Be very understanding and be available for your child
during this time.
Children of a parent who has been deployed in a war zone can suffer from depression.
[13]
In this
case, be aware that your child is under greater strain than usual.
13. Expect the possibility of depression where a child is suffering from a long-term illness or
disability. A child who is unable to do all the things that other children around them are doing may feel left
out, unhappy, and resentful and if this is not discussed and worked around, it can lead to depression. Do
what you can to both hear their concerns and to find other ways to keep your child involved in daily
childhood activities. Have their friends come to visit them if they cannot get out, and bring activities to them
if they cannot get involved any other way.
Sometimes medications can bring about depression. When getting a medication for your child, talk
to the doctor about side-effects and whether there is any possibility of personality changes.
If a child misses sports games due to a bad injury, consider taking them along to a game or two to
watch it and keep informed about the games are going.
14. Maintain a healthy, nutritious diet for the whole household. Growing children need healthy, good
quality food at all times. Junk food can be fun occasionally but has not place in the daily diet. Too much
sugar can result in many poor outcomes such as disrupted learning, bad sleep, and inability to
concentrate. A healthy diet is part of what ensures that your child can cope with difficult situations they
experience.
[14]
Avoid skipping meals. Your child needs all the energy that comes from three regular meals a
day.
[15]
15. Seek help if your child does become depressed. While all of the methods above are suggested as
good ways to help prevent depression, sometimes things will be so overwhelming or just too difficult for
your child and he or she may fall through the cracks and become depressed in spite of your best
endeavors. In this case, seek professional help and don't feel inadequate as a result: Recognizing when
you need help is a great thing. The following signs may be present in a child who is suffering from
depression:
[16]
Sadness, unhappiness over a period of weeks
Withdrawal from family and friends, and once-enjoyed activities; avoiding people they once enjoyed
being with
Changes to sleeping and eating patterns (e.g., weight loss, insomnia, over-sleeping, etc.)
Constant irritability
Daytime wetting or soiling in a toilet-trained child
Poor concentration, indecision, forgetfulness
Feelings of worthlessness or feeling hopeless, excessive guilt, self-blame for family or friend
troubles
Lots of physical complaints, such as headaches, stomach aches, and other aches and pains without
physical cause
Playtime involves much aggression or sadness
Lethargy, chronic tiredness, lack of energy
Risk taking, without caring for hurt or pain
Anger and resentfulness that continue for a long time
Mention or recurring thoughts of suicide, death.
16. Help your child feel competent and important. Several studies advocate becoming responsible for a pet
or even tending a growing plant if useful.
17. Don't automatically rule out medication, but be very sure to get competent care and a second
opinion if medication is suggested. It can help save a life, it can add to depression and suicide.
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Tips
Never belittle a child by calling them negative names or giving them negative traits. Telling a child that they
are "too sensitive, stupid, foolish, idiotic, wicked, etc." simply confirms in their mind that they are not a good
or right person. From this point, it becomes all too easy to give up and simply live up to the expectation of
negativity and depression can quickly follow.
Make sure child gets enough sleep. Children and teens are much more prone to depression when
chronically short on sleep. Most children need 10 hours each night, and teens need to be asleep by 11 pm.
They should have enough sleep to wake naturally or easily each morning. Follow bedtime routines to relax
and prepare for sleep. Keep house lights low in the evenings. Turn off TV and computers an hour before
bedtime. Bedtime snacks, brushing teeth, and stories are good routines to prepare for bed. Even teens
enjoy reading together with adults, if the book is appropriate for their interests. Individual time with parent
to talk quietly is a great way to drift off to sleep.
Share your childhood memories with them; it makes them feel special. It also helps if you spend time
explaining difficult experiences you had and how you coped.
The most common problem that causes depression and has to do with moving can be that your child's best
friend is moving away or that you, your child and your family are moving away from your child's best friend.
Warnings
Anti-depressants have not been shown to be effective in children with depression.
[17]
Rather,
psychotherapy and lots of loving understanding, listening, and support are the best remedies.
Never talk to children rudely; it will just make your bonding weaker and weaker.
If your child responds badly to some of the suggested things that relieve depression, such as difficulty
keeping up with schedules, consistent daily fighting over bedtime, gets sick at meals, difficulty with
physical tasks, difficulty with homework, chart the conflicts. Look for possible physical causes. A learning
disability or undiagnosed physical disability can cause severe depression in a child who cannot keep up
with normal expectations of children. A child suffering insomnia will not be able to get up well in the
mornings and the wake-up fight or tears will be daily. A child with food sensitivities will get sick right after
meals, chart what the child ate, and see if changing diet may help reduce that problem. Depression is still
its own problem in a child with physical problems but no amount of routine will cure a limp, a spinal
problem, or a learning disability. Consistently enforcing a homework schedule when there is a learning
disability that prevents the child from doing the task in the time available just humiliates the child and
drives the child deeper into depression. Never humiliate a child for things done with full effort that did not
turn out well.
Even babies are considered capable of suffering from depression if they do not receive enough love,
contact, and care.
[18]
If your child starts using alcohol or drugs, get immediate help. Consumption of such items can be a sign of
depression or can lead to depression.
[19]
Don't set unrealistic expectations. Shaking hands and panic will cause children to drop things, get
confused, fail at tasks they have already done once on a good day. This is why it is important to chart your
child's failures without making a big deal of them or punishing them, when there is a consistent problem
there is a real cause.
Sources and Citations
http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920 – research source
1. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
2. ↑ http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/DepressionChildren.htm
3. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
4. ↑ http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/DepressionChildren.htm
5. ↑ http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/preventing-depression-in-children.aspx
6. ↑ http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/DepressionChildren.htm
7. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
8. ↑ http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/preventing-depression-in-children.aspx
9. ↑ http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/preventing-depression-in-children.aspx
10. ↑ http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/preventing-depression-in-children.aspx
11. ↑ http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/preventing-depression-in-children.aspx
12. ↑ http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/preventing-depression-in-children.aspx
13. ↑ http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/preventing-depression-in-children.aspx
14. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
15. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
16. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
17. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
18. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920
19. ↑ http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=114&np=141&id=1920