Depression in Children & Pre-Teens: Strategies for Supporting Your Child

Child counseling Thornton

Child Counseling Thornton, Westminster and Spanish Fork

While parenting has its moments that are rewarding such as seeing your kiddo gain confidence in themselves and succeed – the poet Kahlil Gibran described parents as “…the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth,” who strive to give your children the tools to cope when faced with life’s challenges as they venture into the world! There are many points in your child’s life when parenting is especially challenging – and there are fewer obstacles more stressful than when you see your child struggling with pain and symptoms of depression. While there are no quick fixes that parents can offer their children for coping with the lack of motivation, disruptions in sleep patterns, and persistent sadness – there are strategies that you can practice with your child to foster good mental health and maintain their connect with their family.

Routine & Behavioral Activation – An often-overlooked stress reliever is creating predictability for your child or pre-teen by re-establishing routines to help them keep moving forward during challenging times. A common symptom of depression is when children and pre-teens lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, consequently allowing symptoms to worsen.

During the summer holidays there are more opportunities to take activities that occur every day such as mealtimes and commuting to childcare, to build more structure. Having an outline for the day that is flexible but has activities occurring at similar times every day will help in keeping your child active and busy while keeping in mind, that a good routine also makes time for relaxation with self-care, playing, physical activity, and time to just “hang out.”

Sleep Hygiene – One of the tell-tale signs that your child or pre-teen is experiencing symptoms of depression are changes in their sleeping patterns – oftentimes sleeping too much or not sleeping enough! The hectic nature of school schedules can make it difficult to establish and keep with a consistent bedtime routine, and I encourage parents to keep in mind that even though their pre-teen doesn’t require the same steps in their routine as a young child – having a bedtime ritual that makes sense for them is key in restoring a healthy amount of sleep and combatting depression! A very effective strategy for incorporating your child is to brainstorm a consistent sleep schedule with them, such as regular sleep and wake-up times, turning off screens an hour before the decided sleep time, and winding down with relaxing activities as a family.

Relaxation & Self-Care – It’s important for caregivers to recognize that mental health is crucial to your child’s physical well-being as well and blaming yourself or your child for their symptoms is only going to exacerbate their struggles. The younger your kiddo is, the easier it will be to teach them the importance of making time for self-care and relaxation a part of their routine. Carving out small chunks of time such as 10-15 minutes every day for practicing mindfulness techniques, deep breathing, and physical exercise will help your child be prepared for stressful periods in their life. Whether its conflict with their peers and siblings, balancing chores, homework, school time and other activities, kids have a lot of stress and teaching them to make time for their mental health will prepare them for prioritizing their mental health in high school and beyond.

Socializing – Going back to in-person school after the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly challenging for kids and pre-teens due to balancing the demands of schoolwork while maintaining relationships with friends during and outside of the classroom! And for kiddos dealing with depression, social isolation is magnified and easy to reinforce unintentionally. For younger children, I encourage parents to schedule phone calls and collaborate with your kiddos’ friends’ parents to plan activities in-home and outside of the home such as classes or sports. These activities might feel overwhelming at first, and it’s very likely that you’ll get push back from pre-teens and young children, but starting out small, and gradually adding more social activities over time will help tremendously in putting socializing back into the normal routine! 

Quality Time – Taking time to talk might seem especially challenging when faced with interactions like, “how was school today?” and a “Fine,” or “I don’t know,” and often times a child experiencing symptoms of depression isn’t wanting to talk about their symptoms due to fear of worrying their parents. It’s especially important to let your kiddo know that you’re available as a listening ear and will give advice when they ask for it – and quality time can be an opportunity to practice this by having the intention to just check-in with what’s happening in your child’s world. Scheduling quality time with your kiddo doing simple tasks like going out to see a movie, making a meal together, or even going for a walk goes a long way in creating the space to have these conversations. 


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