Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


6 Things Every Kid Should Know About a Parent’s Depression

posted by Beyond Blue

6 Things Every Kid Should Know About a Parents DepressionDepression never happens in a vacuum. Like a ripple in the water, a parent’s illness can’t help but affect her offspring.

Different studies have documented how depression in a new mother clearly affects her interactions with her baby or toddler. Depressed mothers are more withdrawn, less responsive to their infant’s signals. “Their facial expressions and displays of emotion [are] more muted or flat, and their voices [are] monotone,” explains Ruta Nonacs in “A Deeper Shade of Blue.” “They [remain] disengaged and [do] little to support their child’s activities or exploration of the environment.”

A mother’s depression also affects grade-schoolers and adolescents.

When parents fail to meet the needs of the people under their care, some kids begin to act out, have difficulty with schoolwork, become hyperactive. A sizable percentage start to isolate and feel depressed themselves.

I was one of the latter group when my mother went through a severe depression after my dad left the house. I was in fifth grade. I wish someone would have sat me down for a talk and explained what was going on. Because I was certainly confused.

So I’ve compiled a list of things I wish I would have been told. Maybe you or someone you know is a parent struggling with depression and doesn’t know how to explain it to your child. I hope these tips help.

1. Your mom or dad has an illness.

There you have it. An honest, straight-forward explanation. You don’t need to get into all the parts of the brain: “This, here, is the hypothalamus. It’s confused. So is the Hippocampus—it’s not a campus for hippos, though!” All you need to say is that the brain isn’t operating right. The messages that need to be received are being blocked—by a bunch of linebackers that don’t want the football to go into the goal. And that’s creating a lot of sadness and crying. It’s weird because you can’t see it, like a broken leg. But it’s very real.

2. You are not to blame.

God, I wish someone had told me this when my mom was depressed. Because I was utterly convinced I was to blame. I must have said something or done something terrible that upset her. I spent hours trying to solve the mystery. And I felt horribly guilty. It’s very easy for a child to feel guilty about a parent’s depression when no one explains to her why her mom or dad is crying so much. I mean, a kid wants nothing more than to please a parent. He knows that when he does something good, his dad smiles. So when the dad is distraught, that, too, must be related to something the kid did. But it’s not!

3. Don’t take it personally.

This one is related to the last point, but different. Typically, when women are depressed they are weepy and moody. When men are depressed, they are quick-tempered and angry. Both say things they don’t mean. But a kid doesn’t know that. All they hear are the words, and the angry tone of the words, and they take both personally—again, as though they are the object of distress in the parent’s life. A child has a better shot of not becoming depressed herself if someone, maybe another relative or a caregiver, can explain to the child that the mom or dad may say things while he or she has this illness that he or she doesn’t mean … that it’s the illness talking, not the parent.

4. You are still loved.

This is really the only thing the kid needs to hear. You are still loved! Absolutely. Phew. Because that is the biggest fear. I know. I’ve been there. I couldn’t help but think that if I was responsible for making my mom so miserable than she must not love me anymore. That doesn’t do great things for a kid’s psyche or nervous system or any system. The mere consolation of knowing she is loved will promote her resiliency and protect her from the blow of depression’s curse.

5. Depression is treatable.

Every kid needs to hear that his parent will not be depressed for the rest of his life, that the dad who used to take him to soccer practice will return one day soon. The adolescent needs to know that depression, unlike other illnesses, is very treatable and has a good success rate. We are not talking about stage-four cancer. The mom who used to volunteer on the field trips? She may be well by the next one.

6. Ask for help.

This is difficult for a kid. They shouldn’t have to ask for help; however, if no one in the family understands depression, they are going to have to. When I had my breakdown, I was lucky enough to have a husband and in-laws that could take my kids out for awhile and explain that mom didn’t feel good. However, when my mom was depressed, I didn’t know where to turn. Since people who are depressed are poor communicators, it is paramount to let the child know that there are other people to turn to until the parent feels better—not only to help with homework, but also to chaperone school functions and so forth. The child needs to learn a very important life skill: to assert one’s needs until he gets the help he needs.



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Teri

    This is nice, but what if there IS no one else to help with homework, chaperone school functions, etc., because the mother is a widow and her family is not very helpful or close?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Larry

    This is a vital and meaningful message. Even decades later this knowledge and wisdom provides a balm to appy to an ealier version of myself. Education is key and when serious mood disorders strike an all-to-often isolated family this is truly a time “It takes a village.”
    Thank you,Therese, village-maker, for sharing your so-hard-won knowledge.

  • http://www.depressedandcatholic.com Kathleen

    I liked this so much I posted it on my FB page!

    Teri, who can help is pastor, therapist, friends who have kids the same age, school counselors. They do educational presentations in classrooms and support groups. The school where I work in does a group for kids whose parents are incarcerated, for example. Schools do suicide prevention presentations already. Depression of parents is a good topic since there is so much of it! That’s a non-intrusive way of getting support for kids.

Previous Posts

Seven Ways to Get Over an Infatuation
“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild wind can rage through your life leaving you much like the

posted 12:46:43pm Feb. 19, 2014 | read full post »

When Faith Turns Neurotic
When does reciting scripture become a symptom of neurosis? Or praying the rosary an unhealthy compulsion? Not until I had the Book of Psalms practically memorized as a young girl did I learn that words and acts of faith can morph into desperate measures to control a mood disorder, that faithfulness

posted 10:37:13am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

How to Handle Negative People
One of my mom’s best pieces of advice: “Hang with the winners.” This holds true in support groups (stick with the people who have the most sobriety), in college (find the peeps with good study habits), and in your workplace (stay away from the drama queen at the water cooler). Why? Because we

posted 10:32:10am Jan. 14, 2014 | read full post »

8 Coping Strategies for the Holidays
For people prone to depression and anxiety – i.e. human beings – the holidays invite countless possibility to get sucked into negative and catastrophic thinking. You take the basic stressed-out individual and you increase her to-do list by a third, stuff her full of refined sugar and processed f

posted 9:30:12am Nov. 21, 2013 | read full post »

Can I Say I’m a Son or Daughter of Christ and Suffer From Depression?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we read: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” What if we aren’t glad, we aren’t capable of rejoicing, and even prayer is difficult? What if, instead, everything looks dark,

posted 10:56:04am Oct. 29, 2013 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.