We are born as emotional and social beings. During childhood, we go through stages of emotional, social, cognitive, physical development. During development and learning how to deal with feelings, we also get to know „negative“ emotions. Sadness, grumpiness, negative thoughts are part of life and growing up.
In addition to this common emotions, which are a part of us, there are conditions in childhhod taht are not just feelings of sadness or being in a bad mood. Depression that occurs in children of preschool and early school age is actually a problem of the child’s mental health. Depression is a condition that affects everzday life, such as a routine.
Children who suffer from a depression have a negative opinion of themselves, a negative image of themselves, of their life. If it is a school-age child, there may be difficulties in learning, difficulties in making or maintaining friendships, and the child may withdraw even more into himself and become insecure in general.
What can cause depression in children?
There are some risk factors, which combination can increase the chance of developing depression.
- Stressful events.
Changes at home (divorce or death or moving to another city), at school (low marks or bullying), or some huge negative events, such as war, can increase the risk of developing depressive symptoms.
- Family history.
According to psychiatric and psychological research, those children who have in the family someone with mood disorders or depression may be more likely to develop the same disorder at a young age.
Chaotic conditions of life (war) or a chaotic atmosphere at home can put a child at greater risk for a mood disorder like depression.
- Physical health.
Children who suffer from chronic or severe health conditions are more likely depression to be developed at them. One of these conditions can be obesity.
- Biochemical imbalances.
Uneven levels of certain hormones and chemicals may impact how the brain works which can have an impact on developing depression.
Signs and symptoms of depression in children
When these signs last longer than about two weeks, the child is probably facing depression.
A child’s behaviour or success at school can be under change.
- When a child doesn’t do so well academically.
- When a child doesn’t take a part in school activities.
- When a child has problems in adaptation at school or getting along with other children.
A child’s emotions or behaviour has been changed
Your child may manifest some of these symptoms:
- Has negative thoughts about themselves – for example, “I’m not good at anything” or “No one likes me”
- Feels guilty – the child is saying “It’s always my fault”
- Looks sad or unhappy most of the time
- Aggressive behaviour, won’t do what you ask most of the time or facing temper tantrums
- Has many worries or fears
- Keeps complaining of pain in their head or tummy and these problems don’t seem to have a physical or medical cause (psychosomatic symptoms)
A child has started to change interest in everyday activities
- Problems with concentration, memory or making simple decisions.
- Not more interested in playing or doing things they used to enjoy
- Doesn’t want to be around friends and family
- Sleeping problems, including nightmares or even insomnia
- Doesn’t have as much energy as they usually do
How to help your child
In addition to the parent’s obligation to seek professional help from a doctor, psychologist or psychotherapist, there are also some methods that have proven to be effective in helping a depressed child at home.
Talk with your child, active listening.
Find time for you and your child. Ask your child about feelings, and listen to what he/she wants to share with you. Avoid judging, and listen carefully without interrupting. You can have your time during a walk or making dinner together.
Encourage the child for more activities and less thinking about emotions
Gently purpose your child to do something that they like when they’re feeling depressed. Dwelling on their feelings makes them feel worse. Children are often not aware of their own thoughts, so they need someone to pull them out of their world. For example, spending time in the park, in nature or spending time with friends.
Regular family routines
There is time for everything. Time for eating, time for sleeping, time for playing, time for walking, relaxing, socializing… Children need routines as when they know what to expect during the day, they are more likely to accept obligations and get used to them. In that way, parents can manage child’s stress and tensions.
Find support in school or kindergarten
Talk with your child’s teacher or school psychologist and try to find the best ways to support your child.
Praising has an impact on a child’s confidence and self-esteem and helps in recovery. Give praise to your child and say nice words to them. If your child tries to do their best or tries something new please always praise it.
Resilience and self – compassion
Help your children to develop skills and resilience by having a supportive relationship with them. When things don’t go how children expected, they feel nervous, sad, disappointed, angry or frustrated, resilience helps them to carry on these uncomfortable emotions and to understand that they don’t last forever.
Self-compassion is being kind to yourself even when things go wrong. It can help children to face mistakes and tough times in a healthy way. Whether the child will develop self-compassion depends on the parent-child relationship. A warm, supportive and caring relationship with children help them to be kind to themselves when things don’t happen as they want, because they know parents won’t judge or criticise them.
Help your child to calm down
Children begin to develop new emotions around the age of two. Anger, rage, guilt, shame, excitement are strong emotions. Children often need help to overcome these emotions, they need help to calm down.
These five steps are recommended to help your child calm down from a strong emotion:
- Notice and identify the emotion – a child is shouting and throwing things = identified emotion is anger.
- Name and connect the emotion – anger, a child’s anger is connected with not allowing them to watch cartoon.
- Pause and say nothing – try not to talk in those difficult moments, count to 10 in yourself, and let the child understand what is happening.
- Support your child while they calm down – try to stay calm and close to your child. In this way, you show children that you understand and can handle their strong emotions.
- Address the issue – when your child has already calmed down, you can suggest them other ways to react to strong emotions (E.g., advice your child when they feel angry, to go into the room and squeeze a pillow hard. And come back when they are calm).
Andjela Ignjatovic – Nikolic, Mgr. Psychologist