If you decide to talk about depression with your child, you may be concerned about saying the "right" thing. However, just having a open and honest discussion with your child can provide her with much needed support. With a few tips, concerned parents and caregivers can confidently talk about depression with their children.
- Keep it Age Appropriate You want to make sure that your child understands what you are saying and is not confused or bored by the discussion. Make sure that you are using words that your child can understand. Words like "depression" or "emotional reaction" are probably too complex for a younger child, but may be appropriate for an older child or adolescent. Try comparing her depression to something that your child is already familiar with --- like another illness that your child has had experience with (e.g., flu, ear infection, etc.)
- Keep it Positive Keeping your depression discussion positive does not mean that you should sugar-coat it. Depression is a serious illness that causes emotional and physical pain, and it can have serious consequences. However, if you maintain a positive and hopeful outlook in your discussions, you will avoid unnecessarily alarming your child.
- Be Honest In talking about depression, do not make promises you cannot keep or go into detail about topics that you are not certain of. Instead, tell your child what you do know, and make a list of questions to discuss with your child's mental health professional.
- Be Compassionate Your child needs to know that you recognize and respect her feelings. Even if you do not quite understand her thoughts, avoid saying things like "what do you have to be depressed about?" or "don't be ridiculous." Comments like this just cause a child to keep her feelings to herself or become defensive.
- Be a Good Listener Allow your child to talk openly and express her opinions and thoughts. Avoid interrupting, judging, or punishing her for her feelings. Knowing that she has someone she can confide in is extremely helpful in sorting out her feelings.
While talking to your child about her depression can be a very important part of her recovery, it does not replace the need for professional treatment. If your child is depressed or you suspect depression, consult with her pediatrician or other mental health professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Feelings Need Check Ups Too. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed: October 04, 2010.
Communicating With Your Child. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed: 10/05/2010 http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/pages/Communicating-with-Your-Child.aspx
Stress in America: Talking With Your Children About Stress. American Psychological Association: Accessed: 10/04/2010. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress-talking.pdf