Everyone feels sad or discouraged at times. As a parent, you may see changes in your child’s behavior without fully understanding the reason why. Here are some things to watch for and ways to help your child.
If your child has an increase in anger, irritability, or sadness for more than two weeks, you may wonder if he or she is experiencing depression. Depression may look different for children and teenagers than it does for adults. When your child is feeling down or depressed, symptoms may include:
Significant changes in behavior
Grades in school drastically dropping, like going from As to Fs
Changes in friend groups, often to friends who aren’t a positive influence
Loss of interest in activities
Changes in sleeping habits, including too much or too little sleep
Not caring about the future
Complaining of aches and pains with no physical source
Comments or thoughts about death or suicide
Changes in appetite
When a child becomes depressed, parents may feel like it’s their fault or they’ve done something wrong. Remember that depression doesn’t always start because of something that someone did, and it won’t disappear if you simply tell your child to stop feeling depressed. Depression in children often comes from feeling overwhelmed. Do your best to remain calm and focus on listening and validating. You can emotionally coach your child and patiently guide him or her with coping skills to help manage strong emotions.
If you start to notice some of the symptoms above, help your child feel supported and loved. Look for ways to improve your bond with your child. This can help your child to better cope with stressful situations. Some ways to develop the parent-child bond include:
Talking and listening
Reassuring your child that things will get better
Pointing out strengths
Expressions of love
Serving your child
While you’re responsible for your child, don’t try to go it alone. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said: “If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.”1
Seek support from heavenly parents, family and friends, Church leaders (including Young Men or Young Women leaders), and potentially a trained mental health professional.2 If you decide to seek professional help, choose a therapist who has experience working with children and can understand the concerns you have for your child. It’s important for you to be there—to engage in treatment with your child and, in many cases, attend therapy with him or her. Your child’s doctor is another resource you can turn to for help. The doctor can prescribe medicine when needed to manage the symptoms of depression.
It’s important for your child to have structure. If your child knows what to expect and when, he or she will feel more stable and will be more capable of adapting. Here are some ways to add structure to your child’s day or week:
Have a consistent bedtime
Get up at the same time every day
Share with them the schedule for the day
Limit screen time
Be physically active (going for a family walk is great)
Engage in spiritual growth together, including regular gospel study and family prayer
Eat meals as a family every day
Encourage your child to join the family in activities like playing a game or watching a movie together. It can also be helpful to model self-care and teach your child ways that he or she can take time for this. You may choose to do yoga or mindfulness activities with your child or as a family.