It’s important to understand that depression can affect anyone, including children. Although it may be difficult for adults to comprehend, children face numerous challenges on a daily basis that can contribute to feelings of hopelessness and despair. As caregivers, it’s important to validate and acknowledge a child’s real feelings and give them space to process those emotions. This can help them develop coping mechanisms and foster trust in their relationship with you.
In this article, we’ll explore why it’s important to listen to children who are struggling with depression and how you can support them.
When thinking of children I believe it is hard for adults to fathom the concept that they may struggle with depression. We think “What are you sad about? You’re a kid”. In all actuality, children face a lot in their day to days. They are consistently told what to wear, where to go, etc. They have to navigate a number of social interactions with peers who sometimes can be less than pleasant. Putting this all together makes for a recipe for feeling hopeless. While working with children with depression, my main goal is to validate their real feelings and give them the space to feel those very real feelings.
In my treatment of children with depression, I notice that well-meaning adults often resist the feelings kids share. Of course, it is painful and at times unexpected to hear the depth of feelings experienced by young children with depression. Our own discomfort leads us to dismiss (“You don’t really mean that!”) or invalidate (“Just focus on all the good things in your life”). However, it is of the utmost importance that adults in a child’s life acknowledge and honor what the child is sharing.
A question I often ask caregivers is, “When your child is a teenager or young adult, what do you hope your relationship with your child will be like?” What I know is that caregivers dream of close relationships, where children feel free to share what they are feeling, wrestling with, and longing for. If we want those relationships, we must honor what children share with us when they are young, so that they learn we are safe places for their vulnerability as they grow.
If a child in your life is experiencing depression, listen – not with the intent to respond or fix, but with the intent to provide the best summary you can of what they just said so that they will feel heard (or can clarify errors in your understanding). Acknowledge how hard it must be for them right now. Remind them that you are always there for them. And of course, ensure they get the professional help and treatment they need.
Depression is something that can come in all shapes and sizes. It can also affect any person, regardless of age, demographic, or profession. This is a concept that I value when working with any population.
Oftentimes, depression is overlooked because of one’s ability to mask how they feel inside. Moreover, it is common to overlook depression as one may believe there are many things in life to be happy about. As a clinician, I aim to use validation so that my clients can feel comfortable enough to remove the “mask” that many of us wear during our everyday endeavors. Coping skills and strategies to reduce depression can only be presented once depression is recognized. That’s why it’s important to create a safe space for clients to speak their truth without fear of judgment and invalidation.
Stay tuned for Part Two of the Therapy for Depression series.
Until then, Be Wise!
“Our clinician has been a tremendous help with family issues and getting our children organized for success in life. Highly recommend her.”— Mom of three young adults ages 20 – 24
“Dr. Amy knows how to relate to children and make them feel comfortable. My son was shy in the beginning but Amy asked him a couple of questions about what he likes and immediately found a connection with him. He happily followed her into the office (just after a 3 min of conversation) and performed the test. He wasn’t nervous or scared and it’s because of her ability to relate to kids.
We had a great experience and he wants to go back! Thank you very much!”— Dad of 5-year-old assessment client
“Dr. Amy is like Oprah – she’s the neighbor you love who is very, very smart”— Parent of 14-year-old son and 18-year-old daughter
“This is my 1st visit at WISE with my son. So far I am very thankful and impressed by the space. I feel light and comfortable here while my son works on his growth. I appreciate that you curated the process well.” ~ WISE Family parent— Thankful and impressed by the space