How to Handle Depression in Children

Borrowing from the words of the Irish poem popularized by our own Chinua Achebe:  Things (society) fall apart and the center (families) cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the land…

 I know of a young lady, about 15 years of age. She has been sick since she was 3 years old. The sickness comes off and on… more like a spiritual attack. Her mother emphatically said to her: the agony you bring to me is unbearable and I have four other kids… if you want to die, die. Not unexpectedly, suicide is on this young girl’s mission list…

Parents sometimes give doses of (discouraging) messages to children daily that make them experience lots of failure in their lives, feel defeated, less significant and stripped of their sense of belonging, dignity and connection.

They hear these messages so often that it has become their self-talk and mantra! They feel, “I can’t do it right, so why bother? Why try? Why do anything at all… so they give up and don’t put in their best in their school work, stick to themselves, avoid activities, and perceive themselves as helpless and being good for nothing. With the popularization of several ways to die on the media, little wonder more and more souls are seeking the quicker way out of their confusion.

Parents of this generation can support and nurture our children’s mental and socio-emotional health by adapting the following:

Be Patient: Actively listen before offering your advice: Allow your child to pass across her thoughts and feelings. Avoid interrupting or jumping into conclusion. Listen. Throwback what she has said to be sure you are on the same page using question tags like: Are you saying…. Or do you mean… etc. When there is a synchrony, you can then come up with your advice. This fulfils your child’s need to be heard.

Share Your Feelings and Validate Theirs: Feelings are neither right nor wrong. They just are. Vulnerability is never a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of openness and the ability to express honestly, how one feels. Teach and allow your child to express her feelings in healthy ways. Avoid squelching your child’s feelings with expressions that denies her of what she feels. We do this innocently when we make comments like: “Big boys don’t cry”, “the injection wouldn’t hurt”, “how can you be hungry, you just ate!”, “what is there to be scared about?” Etc.

Tell the Truth: “Mommy, are you ok?” asks her daughter. Mom lies, “I’m fine, dear.” Do you try to mask your feelings from your children? Your spouse? We often hide our feelings because we want to protect ourselves from vulnerability so no one gets too close to discover who we really are or what we are going through. At times, we hide our feelings so as to protect our children from the hurt we experience. As a human being, one of our deepest needs is to be known. When you have “your person” who “gets” you and who you can be you with, it is comforting and soothing and keeps us from feeling lonely in the world.

 It is hard to experience connection and deep bonds when everyone in the household walks around with masks on or on egg shells around each other.

 Our children learn what it means to tell the truth and be transparent from us.  Transparency is a life skill and most easily learned from modeling. Children whose parents mask their feelings are often confused because they sense something but are being told something else. They begin to not trust their inner guide. This makes them susceptible to peer pressure.

If we want our children to feel deeply connected and to “trust their gut”, we will need to be more transparent…to let our children know how we truly feel and think. It is a risk…are you willing to take it? If you do, you’ll reap the benefit of being fully known and knowing your family fully.

Model Healthy Behaviour: Parenting itself is a modelling job. Parents are the first teachers and children right from a very young age, learn responses and behaviours from us. What are you modelling? That the bar is the place to hit to pour your frustration? Slamming the door on a get-away gets you feeling better? When you fail, it means the world has come to an end? Check.

Be Consistent and Follow Through with What You Promise: Simply put, this means that you mean what you say and say what you mean. One of the greatest challenges of our time is that parents have become consistently inconsistent! Think therefore, before every response you give to your child. Let your yes remain yes and your no, always a no and when not sure which to say, be honest to say: “you know what? I don’t know what to say right now. Give me some time to think through and we can discuss this again in half an hour (or whatever works for you)”. When children see that you are consistently consistent, it sets a good balance for their socio-emotional and mental health.

(To be Continued)

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