We know a lot about depression these days. Officially Major Depressive Disorder – single episode or recurrant, mild/moderate/severe. You can read about the symptoms here. We also know more than we ever have about depression in children. And, we know that the foundation for being at risk of developing depression begins early in childhood.
Are we blaming parents yet again!? No.We know that parents stand in the priceless position of being able to teach their children skills and mindsets that will keep them free from developing depression in childhood and later in life. Are you on board with that and ready to learn more?
Depression Background – Things We Know
- Depression is a reactive disorder, meaning it comes on as a reaction to our life circumstances.
- It is a disorder of motivation and life out of control – nothing ever works so why try.
- Cognitions, or thoughts and beliefs, are a huge part of depression.
- Often depression includes anger and irritability as prominent symptoms, especially in children and men.
- There is no gene for depression. There might be genes that make us vulnerable to depression, but no gene that causes it.
- Depression is “taught and learned” in families, which makes it look genetic.
- Depression is curable and we know how to do that.
- We can raise children who are depression proof!
“Where Do I Start?”
Check Your Own Mental Health
Be honest with yourself. Do you have depression, even mildly? What about your anxiety – fears and worries? What about personality traits such as perfectionism, emotional distance, helicopter parenting, spoiling your child. Get an assessment done. We have highly competent mental health professionals all over our country and, by federal law, all insurance policies must cover mental health care as part of essential coverage. Your family doctor is a good place to start, too. NOTE: The #1 risk factor for a child developing any of a variety of mental health conditions sometime in their life, including depression, is a depressed primary caregiver. Who is the primary caregiver of the children in your family?
Fear and Worry
We have a smorgasbord of fears and worries being offered up in our world these days and daily we are teaching this to our children without even knowing it. Fears and anxiety are the beginning of depression. Our own fears about money, safety, terrorism, car wrecks, our old age preparation, health, our relationships, food toxins, the ridiculous cost of everything. And the fears that focus on our children. Kidnapping, bullying, academic success, college expenses, their friendships, popularity, health, homework, scheduling, after school activities, how our children compare to other children. And on and on it goes. If we can’t find something to worry about we just make up something new.
Listen for “the language of fear” – be careful, don’t go outside, it’s raining, it’s too cold, you will get sick if you get wet, stranger danger, don’t do that you might get hurt, don’t climb that tree, don’t swing too high, don’t ski too fast. The world is not a scary place. It’s just a place so, watch your own fear and watch your own language when you talk to your kids. Try not saying “be careful” the next time you have the urge. Or ever again. Read Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy
I love this parenting technique! You know. Scaffolding holds you up but it won’t paint the house. Well, you can scaffold kids by supporting them, encouraging them, and letting them accomplish the feat themselves. That might include letting them fail so they can practice their problem solving skills and try again.
For example – your child has climbed a tree and claims she can’t get down. She might even be crying or scared. You could… go get the ladder/climb up and get her/call the fire department! OR – you can talk her down so she do it herself. “I know you’re scared. I’ll help you from down here until you get down. Where can you put your foot next? There you go! Now, where is the next good place to put a foot? Which hand do you want to move next? Keep going. You’ll get it! You can take a little break for a minute while you pick your next move. Are you ready? I’m still here. You’ll get it!” says the parent to the child.
Or, “Mom will you draw a heart for me? I can’t do it?” “Well, I can’t draw it because it’s your project but I’ll sit with you while you figure it out,” says the parent to the child.
The ability to produce a desired result or effect. If we know we can do things we feel more in control of life. Teach this to your kids. Don’t do for them anything they could possibly do for themselves. That includes helping too much with homework, tying shoes even if they do it poorly, laundry, making a phone call to check on the Safe Sitter classes coming up. Scaffold them a bit, support them, encourage, and see their confidence grow. Let them pick out clothes at an early age, regardless of the matching colors etc. Teach them to cook early. Teach them to build things and trust them. It’s called self-efficacy – the proof that I can have an effect on my life. Read Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control by Albert Bandura
Problem Solving Skills
This goes right along with scaffolding and self-efficacy. Try not to make suggestions when your child is confronted with a life problem. Instead, be there, listen, converse with them about it but don’t try to tell them how to solve it. “What do you think you can do about this situation? What else could you try? How did that work? What do you want to happen next? Do you want help or do you want to do it yourself?” says the parent to the child. Read It’s OK NOT to Share by Heather Shumaker. Her renegade rules for raising kids offer a wealth of ideas on promoting the development of problem solving skills. Learn how to help your kids develop flexible thinking.
Lack of assertiveness accompanies depression and lack of assertiveness can fuel depression. Assertiveness grows from knowing what we like and don’t like and the confidence to voice this is socially appropriate ways. Even little children need to practice using their voice.
“It’s time to pick up your toys.” says the parent to the child. “NO!” says the child to the universe. “Are you worried about something if you pick up your toys right now?” says the parent to the child. “I don’t want to tear down my block castle!” says the child tearfully. ” Oh! I see. Well, let’s see if we can save the castle and pick up the rest of the blocks before you go to bed,” says the parent to the child. If we listen, they will speak to us. Just think how assertiveness will benefit your teens as they begin dating. They will be good listeners, and confident with their own voices. Efficacy!
Get Your Kids Outside!
Enough said. Too much time in the house isn’t natural. They need lots of unstructured outside play time for their imaginations to develop. They need to hear green, smell snow, taste mud, talk to turtles, imitate birds, feel the sun, and….. you name it.
People with depression don’t sleep well and people who don’t get enough sleep are vulnerable to depression. Sleep resets the brain. Teach your children how to sleep well. Model it to them. You will feel better, too.
Hand-Me-Down Blues by Michael Yapko, Ph.D. Dr. Yapko is an internationally renowned expert on depression. This book tells how to stop depression from spreading in families. He has written other books on depression including Keys to Unlocking Depression.
It’s OK to Go Up the Slide by Heather Shumaker. More renegade rules!!