5 Tips for Parents Who Want to Talk to Children About Depression

Why it's important to be honest and compassionate during the discussion

father talking to son
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If you decide to talk about depression with your child, you may be concerned about saying the "right" thing. However, just having an open and honest discussion with your child can provide her with much needed support. With a few tips, concerned parents and caregivers can confidently talk about depression with their children.

Keep the Talk Age Appropriate

You want to make sure that your child understands what you are saying and is not confused or bored by the discussion.

Make sure that you are using words that your child can understand. Words such as "depression" or "emotional reaction" are probably too complex for a younger child but may be appropriate for an older child or adolescent. Try comparing her depression to something that your child is already familiar with --- like another illness that your child has had experience with (e.g., flu, ear infection, etc.)

Keep the Conversation Positive

Keeping your depression discussion positive does not mean that you should sugar-coat it. Depression is a serious illness that causes emotional and physical pain, and it can have serious consequences. However, if you maintain a positive and hopeful outlook in your discussions, you will avoid unnecessarily alarming your child.

Be Honest

In talking about depression, do not make promises you cannot keep or go into detail about topics that you are not certain of. Instead, tell your child what you do know, and make a list of questions to discuss with your child's mental health professional.

Be Compassionate

Your child needs to know that you recognize and respect his feelings. Even if you do not quite understand his thoughts, avoid quipping, "What do you have to be depressed about?" or "Don't be ridiculous." Comments like these just cause a child to keep his feelings to himself or become defensive.

Be a Good Listener

Allow your child to talk openly and express his opinions and thoughts. Avoid interrupting, judging or punishing him for his feelings. Knowing that he has someone he can confide in helps to sort out his feelings.

While talking to your child about his depression can be a very important part of his recovery, it does not replace the need for professional treatment. If your child is depressed or you suspect depression, consult with his pediatrician or other mental health professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.


Sources:

Feelings Need Check Ups Too. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed: October 04, 2010.

Communicating With Your Child. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed: 10/05/2010 http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/pages/Communicating-with-Your-Child.aspx

Stress in America: Talking With Your Children About Stress. American Psychological Association: Accessed: 10/04/2010. http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress-talking.pdf

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