How To Explain Depression To A Child: Dos and Don’ts

Wondering how to talk to kids about depression? If you’re a parent with depression, then it may have affected your ability to care for or spend time with your kids at some point. While you may understand why you behave a certain way, your children may just see a parent who acts differently, snaps at them, or withdraws more than usual and no longer wants to play with them. Depression can be difficult for children to understand and discussing it with your kids can be tricky. Since we believe honesty is the best policy, here are some dos and don’ts on how to explain depression to a child. 

Dos and Don’ts of Explaining Depression to a Child

Do Get Treatment First 

Only once you’ve taken the necessary steps to understand and manage your condition can you explain it to your kids. If you haven’t already met with a mental health specialist or received depression treatment, consider doing so before you try to explain depression to your children. Not only can receiving therapy and treatment help you manage your symptoms and be there for your kids in the ways you want to, but it could also offer you advice on how to describe depression to a child. 

Do Make It Age-Appropriate 

Talking to children about depression depends greatly on how you approach the conversation. With that said, you must consider their age. Depending on how old the child is, make sure the conversation is molded to their developmental stage so they can understand what you’re talking about. 

With very young children, speak using simple language and use plenty of examples to describe your symptoms. For instance, you might say, “Do you know how you feel sad when you lose your favorite doll? Well, sometimes mommy feels that way for a few days. That’s why I may not smile too much or want to play.”

By the time your child reaches middle school, you can begin to introduce concepts like depression and anxiety without going into too much detail about your battles or medication. When they reach high-school age, you can be more straightforward in your conversations and describe your symptoms and how depressive episodes make you feel. 

Do Know Your Audience 

Every kid absorbs information differently. While some children are more hands-on and learn better while playing, others may work off visual aids or enactments. Some children may even be more comfortable simply sitting still and having a discussion without distractions. 

You must tailor how to explain depression to a child to what best suits their learning capacity and preference. This can make a huge difference in how much of and how well they understand the conversation.  

Don’t Be Secretive or Hide Information 

It’s not always easy to be honest with children about struggles as serious and personal as depression, but honesty is always the best course of action. You want your kids to understand that any mood swings, withdrawal from loved ones, and other shifts in behavior are due to your depression and not a representation of your feelings for them. 

What’s more, being dishonest about your condition or sugar-coating things can backfire. When kids don’t know the full story, they’ll naturally attempt to fill in the gaps themselves. In the end, their version of the situation may be more frightening and traumatizing than the reality. 

It’s okay to tell your kids you don’t have all the answers. It’s also okay to tell them you won’t get better overnight and that finding stability with depression is an ongoing journey. As you go through your ups and downs, always be as open with them as you can. 

Don’t Change Your Family Routine 

You might find it nearly impossible to keep up with your usual family routine during episodes of depression. These symptoms often come in waves, and you may feel like you can’t do a thing for a few days to many weeks. 

However, young children can sense when something is wrong, and sticking to a routine no matter how you’re feeling can help offset any imbalance and prevent your children from sensing your distress. Some tips for maintaining a routine in depression include planning regular mealtimes around the table to talk and setting aside time for family activities like watching movies. 

Do Answer Their Questions

Kids’ favorite question when they’re growing up is, “Why?” and don’t expect it to be any different when you’re explaining depression to your kids. They might even ask hard questions out of fear or concern, such as “Will you get better?” or “Are you going to die?” Reassure them that depression is not fatal, that you’re getting treatment, and be open to answering any of their other questions, as difficult as they may be. Also, as we mentioned previously, it’s okay to tell them that you don’t have all the answers. 

Importance of Talking to Children About Depression

A major plus about talking to kids about depression at a young age is that they’ll find it easier to understand the conversation as they develop. Additionally, any moments of sadness they see in you, or times when you may not want to play with them or don’t seem like yourself, they’ll understand that it’s a byproduct of your condition rather than a representation of how you feel about them.

Furthermore, mental illness is a family disease, and conditions like anxiety and depression tend to be passed down through family members. By introducing this topic to your children at a young age in ways they can grasp it, they’ll be better prepared to recognize any symptoms of mental illness in themselves and be more open to asking for help. 

Depression Treatment in Florida 

The first step of explaining depression to your children is getting help for yourself. Although depression itself is not fatal, its symptoms have unfortunately led many to suicidal thoughts and actions. Remember that you are loved, and your children especially need you around. 

If you’re struggling with depression and don’t know where to turn, our luxury treatment center in Palm Beach can help. We offer various mental health programs in Florida, including treatment for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and more. 

People receiving mental health at our high-end rehab work with counselors individually to understand their conditions and develop healthy coping mechanisms for their symptoms. No matter what stage of depression you’re in, our specialists can help. 

Because many people with mental health disorders self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, our luxury rehab also offers dual diagnosis treatment that addresses both addiction and mental illness to help patients achieve lasting recovery. Break free from the chains of addiction or mental illness. 

Call Seaside Palm Beach today at 561-677-9374 to get started.  

Related Reading:

How to Help Someone in A Manic State

Different Types of Depression

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