Childhood Depression: Recognizing When Your Child Needs Support

Childhood Depressio - Recognizing When Your Child Needs Support

The highs and lows that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic have taken a toll on parents’ and their children’s mental health. While you try your best to stay resilient when navigating the challenges of supporting your child during Covid-19, you’re only human – and so is your child. While we’re all trying to adapt to the changes brought on by the Covid pandemic, not all children adapt well. The first step is recognizing key warning signs that your child might be struggling to stay positive and is experiencing symptoms of depression. It is important to note that if you notice any of these behaviors in your child, it is essential to consult your pediatrician or general care doctor, in addition to a mental health professional.

Irritability or Mood Swings – There are a variety of ways depression is shown in popular media that have shaped how parents imagine depression symptoms – particularly with how depression shows up in adults. While it’s normal for children to experience feelings of sadness and irritability when going through big life changes such as moving cities, transferring schools, or shifts in their peer relationships; noting the duration for your child’s persistent feelings of sadness or irritability is crucial for understanding how your child will need support. Many parents see changes in their child’s emotions such as mood swings in which your child can go from angry outbursts [more frequent or severe tantrums in young children] to an exhausted, almost emotionless state. The American Psychological Association (APA) has established that if a child’s symptoms have lasted for more than two weeks, depression is something parents need to consider. 

Change in Eating and Sleeping Patterns – Children 12 years-old and under have their unique nighttime routine and eating habits that develop overtime and change with the child’s schedule! However, if you notice that your child has been sleeping for longer periods of time or is having problems sleeping at night and is making up for it during the day, this can be an indicator that they are dealing with symptoms of clinical depression. Depression in children can also look like your child having a lack of motivation to eat during usual mealtimes or exhibiting binge-eating behaviors. Your kiddos might also talk about having physical symptoms like such as frequent headaches or stomach aches with no medical illness. 

Lower Self-esteem – Another common symptom that your child might be coping with is a change in how they feel about themselves and their general self-image. Children under the age of 12 might start making statements such as, “I’m stupid,” “No one likes me,” “I can’t do anything right, or “I hate myself,” to name a few. You might also notice that your child has developed a new sensitivity to failure and rejection from their peers, that can take the form of your kiddo personalizing and blaming themselves for things outside of their control. As your child changes and grows, it’s natural for them to give increased caring and attention to their peer relationships and paying attention to your child’s relationships with their friends can give so much insight into how they see themselves in the world. 

General Lack of Interest – As your kids have been transitioning back to in-person school, it’s possible that you notice your child having a hard time building friendships with their peers and might even have little to no motivation to spend time with their friends and start to socially isolate, in order to soothe their worries about social engagement. Parents can also start to see a negative shift in their child’s attitude about activities they used to enjoy doing either on their own, with their friends, or with the family. This can look look like your child no longer having interest in school activities as well as a general decline in grades or school attendance.

Having Thoughts of Death – One of the most jarring symptoms that children oftentimes experience with their depression are more frequent thoughts about death or self-harm. This can be particularly heart-wrenching for parents to hear from their children and can trigger feelings of helplessness and fear. Children’s thoughts of death, or seemingly obsessive fears or worries about death, can come up when they are experiencing intense emotions of anger, frustration, or sadness. Children can express these thoughts in a variety of ways for example, “I just wish I wasn’t here anymore,” “I wish I were gone,” as well as talking about, or trying to run away from home. 

Fortunately, there are a variety of ways that you can maintain a strong connection and be a source of support for your child as they are coping with these symptoms. Consulting with a mental health professional and your child’s pediatrician can go a long way in easing your fears and getting the facts to decide which approaches to treatment will be a better fit for your kiddo. There is also power in maintaining family routines and rituals, as well as starting new ones such as “feelings check-in” or having “dates” to just enjoy each other’s company – which can ultimately help your child know that they can continue to count on your love and support no matter what they’re going through.

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