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Signs That Your Child May Be Suffering From Depression

May 12, 2014

depressedchildIt is common for children to experience a variety of emotions that range from sadness to utter joy. However, many children sink into a state of depression when they are overcome by their emotions and are unable to move past the emotional roller coaster. Often, situational experiences and genetics play a role, too. According to Dr. Tamar Chansky, Pennsylvania-based psychologist and author of Freeing Your Child From Negative Thinking, children of depressed parents have a 61% chance of developing a psychiatric condition, with a 45% chance that it is depression, versus an 11% chance of developing depression if the mother is not depressed.

Helping your child cope before depression takes over his or her life begins with recognizing signs or symptoms that indicate he or she is suffering from the disorder. Learn how to recognize the red flags and provide your child with the help he or she needs.

Depression: Be In The Know

Children exhibit signs and symptoms of depression in many different ways depending upon their age, maturity level and emotional stability.

According to Chansky, parents and nannies should be concerned if they recognize that the following symptoms are present for at least two weeks, cause significant distress and interfere with the child’s functioning:

  • Change in mood
  • More withdrawn, irritable, angry, apathetic or sad
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Crying easily or excessively
  • Increased clinginess or separation anxiety
  • Change in attitude; things in life are exhausting, too hard, too boring

The Preschooler

Signs and symptoms will vary significantly as your child ages. According to Chansky, preschoolers will experience mood swings, but when your child is unable to move from grumpy to happy, it could be a sign of depression. “Normally, anything of interest in the world – a dog, a cloud, a burp, can charm a preschooler out of a grumpy mood, but depression is different,” she says. “The mood takes on a life of its own and won’t budge.”

Parents of preschoolers should seek help when recognizing the following signs:

  • Appearance is sad, eyes downcast, has difficulty smiling
  • Change in activity level – either hyperactive or lethargic
  • Frustration increases and tolerance decreases
  • May see hitting, biting and screaming
  • Separation anxiety
  • Physical symptoms

The School-Aged Child

As your child enters school, his frustration level may be magnified when academic and social pressures impact his emotional well-being. Some children experience negative thoughts, such as “I’m stupid” when he doesn’t score well on a test or “I hate everything – why try?” when faced with challenges. “And though sometimes that thought process can occur normally, with depression, their beliefs and the feelings that accompany them are stuck,” says Chansky. “They are convinced that these ideas are true.”

In addition to signs outlined for preschoolers, Chansky designates the following additional red flags for school-aged children:

  • Difficulty making decisions – they feel responsible that they will make the ‘wrong’ choice and it will be irrevocable
  • May be worried, suddenly hesitating to do things like go to a friend’s house – they are afraid that they will feel bad there and won’t be able to cope
  • Change in sleep patterns, difficulty sleeping
  • Change in eating habits – either overeating or reduced appetites

The Teenager

If you notice that your teen is exhibiting many of the signs outlined for preschoolers and school-aged children, accompanied by a negative preoccupation with themselves, Chansky suggests that the additional red flags detailed below may be cause for concern:

  • Deterioration in self-care
  • Decreased participation in school work
  • Spends increasing time alone
  • Emotional over-eating or not eating
  • Self harm
  • Withdrawn from social activities

How You Can Help

Recognizing signs and symptoms of depression in your child is the first step, but there is so much more parents and nannies can do to help children cope with the guidance of a professional counselor or therapist.

While coping with depression, your child needs empathy and optimism, says Chansky. “Accept and reflect what your child is feeling,” she says. “Also, help your child to get different perspectives on their situation.”

When your child feels lost, it’s important to find a table for two when it comes to optimism, says Chansky. “In other words, you can’t teach your children skills of accurate thinking if you aren’t following them yourselves,” she says. “Parents may get discouraged and distressed seeing their child suffering but they need to stick with the plan themselves – get specific, change the thought in your head to ‘My child is having trouble right now; I can help him; He doesn’t want to be this way; This isn’t how it will always be.’”


2 Responses to Signs That Your Child May Be Suffering From Depression

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Val says:

I guess I never really considered that preschoolers could get depressed just like teens and adults. That’s a scary thought – kids are supposed to be happy and carefree!

Depression says:

Those warning signs are things that most of us might take as normal childhood behavior some days. How do we know when it goes beyond that and becomes depression?