Children are often emotional, cranky, and whiny. Maybe you think it’s just a phase. You may be right. But if the moods last for weeks or months, consider the possibility that your child is more than moody.
If your child’s energy is low or their self-esteem is plummetting you are wise to look deeper. Depression is different than the blues or occasional ups and downs. It will not fade away like many childhood developmental stages.
There are definite signs you can recognize if you know what to look for. Then, you can provide the help and hope they need. The reality is that millions of people, children included, wrestle with sadness, withdrawal, and hopelessness. Be prepared to assist your child with therapeutic support.
Childhood Signs of Depression
Consider your child’s recent experiences with family, schoolmates, and playmates.
Do they tend to hang back or slip off for time alone? Have digital distractions like video games and TV replaced active interaction with anyone?
Recognize that many depressed children withdraw by burrowing into dark, quiet spaces. You may find your child spending time alone in a bedroom closet, tucked under their pillows and covers during the day, or hiding under their bed.
“Sick” Days and Low Energy
Be aware that a general sense of “not feeling good” or lethargy may arise. Has your child visited the doctor or missed quite a few school days due to generic mystery ailments? Are they “too tired” to do much or seem to move around in slow motion?
The problem may be emotional pain due to depression. Kids often aren’t able to pin down what’s wrong. Thus, they often default to what they do know–belly aches and headaches.
Disrupted Eating & Sleeping
Do you find your child is sleeping and eating little or too much? Any sudden changes in those areas deserve prompt attention as they can a significant effect on physical, mental, and emotional health.
Complaints and General Negativity
Many depressed children default to words like “boring”, “stupid,” or “dumb”. Depression creates an ongoing sense of disinterest in places and activities that were formerly fun. They may resist new experiences as well, expressing how unhappy they are at being made to participate or engage others.
Poor Self-image and Low Self-esteem
Discouragement and helplessness often manifest as put-downs or criticism directed at themselves. Does your child apologize frequently or say things about themselves like, “I suck” or I’m always messing up”?
A depressed child may read social struggles, academic problems, or even family problems as signs of their uselessness, inadequacy, or worthlessness.
Tantrums and Outbursts
Depressed children often experience mood swings. Pushback against you, teachers, or loved ones is common. Tears, intense irritation, and frustration can interfere with their ability to communicate and soothe themselves.
Furthermore, troublemaking and rebellion may arise or intensify. Getting in trouble at school may indicate difficulty dealing with inner turmoil.
Self-destructive thoughts and commentary require an immediate response. Any sign of self-harm requires even swifter action. Children are at risk for suicide when depression is severe. Take your child’s self-destructive words, writings, and artwork to heart and get help right away.
Take the Next Step…
Depression is painful for all who endure it. If your child is hurting, you are right to read the signs and reach out for help. Working with you, their pediatrician, and a therapist can help them feel loved and accepted. As you show them that you will hear them and stick with them regardless of their behavior, you can help them turn things around.