Protecting Your Children Against Depression
As parents we all know that there’ll be times when our kids will suffer from disappointment and rejection. We steel ourselves for it. We know that we – and our kids – will win some, and lose some.
And yet some of us hold on to a concern that somewhere along the bumpy road from childhood into early adolescence, our son or daughter will veer into a terrain of sadness from which they find it very hard to return. We worry that our kids will experience depression.
Being involved in our children’s lives, knowing what they’re thinking and sensing when they’re troubled are among the ways that we can help our kids bear the emotional burdens that they will inevitably face. We can also teach them to talk about their problems, remind them to work through their options and help them to understand that tough times come and go .
The problem-handling skills we can teach our kids will prepare them well for the imperfect life ahead. But there will always be kids who are vulnerable to something more serious. Sometimes it’s because of circumstance. Sometimes it’s because of a family history of depression. The good news, according to Dr Brian Graetz, senior program manager of the national depression initiative, beyondblue, is that there are certain things that we can put in place to provide some extra protection for children who may be more vulnerable to depression.
4 Tips to Help Protect Your Child Against Depression
1. Keeping Active
The advice often heard for keeping depression at bay in adults is also true for kids: some regular physical activity does seem to benefit mental health.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean being an elite athlete,” says Dr Graetz, “but staying active, walking regularly, walking the dog or something like that, is a very protective strategy.”
2. Being Connected
Dr Graetz observes that kids who don’t have a big social circle, who perhaps just rely on one or two close friends, are far more vulnerable to depression than kids who are better connected. The concern is that if those one or two friends disappear – if someone moves to another town or another school, if loyalties shift, if situations change for one reason or another as they so often do in childhood – then the vulnerable child can be left feeling terribly isolated.
For that reason Dr Graetz encourages families to get their children involved with other groups, whether they’re sporting teams or choirs or social clubs or dance schools.
“I think when kids have those connections to something they’re good at and to other people who share their passions – those are really protective things.”
3. Accepting Challenges
Some kids are excruciatingly susceptible to shyness and self-doubt which makes it very hard for them to get involved in the kinds of social activities that could prove so rewarding for them in the long run.
“That happens for a lot of kids,” concedes Dr Graetz” but I think it’s important that parents continue to encourage them to do those things.”
He suggests talking to your child about how it’s possible to overcome the obstacle of shyness simply by going through with your participation and experiencing the success of engaging with others.
“You can say: ‘Look a lot of other children have similar problems, but you can actually do this. The important thing is that you just go, that you do put yourself through this process’.”
4. Taking Time to be Sad
Things will go wrong. Friends will be lost. Opportunities will be missed. Mistakes will be made. When those things happen, Dr Graetz advises that parents should acknowledge their child’s feelings and give them the space they need to be sad.
“It’s about recognition,” he says. “It’s pretty sad when those things happen. It’s important for your kid. You don’t want to minimise their sadness or indicate that it’s not appropriate for them to be sad.”