Photo by NOAA on Unsplash
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Dealing with Depression in Children

Question

For the past several months, our 9-year-old daughter has seemed more withdrawn and quiet than usual.  We’ve recently moved and we’re concerned that she might be experiencing some depression.  What should we look for and what can we do?

Answer

It’s been said that depression is the “common cold” of emotional problems. One study indicated that as many as 8% of preschool age children experience significant depression, and as they get older their chances of becoming depressed actually increase.

While most depression in childhood goes away quickly, some kids can suffer from the more serious, disabling type of depression.

At the outset it’s important to know that depression is not the same as sadness.  Depression is more intense, it lasts longer, significantly interferes with effective day-to-day functioning

An important first step is for you to look for some of the signs of depression including changes in her sleep patterns and normal eating habits, withdrawal from normal activities, frequent crying, difficulty in decision-making, increased isolation and an increase in complaining of headaches, stomach aches or other pain that there’s no medical explanation for.

Regardless of the level of depression, there are several helpful things that you can do.

Seize opportunities to talk with her and encourage her to express her feelings.  Make sure you and other family members let her know that she is loved and to look for ways to include her.  When you pray with her at night help her “count her blessings” for all of the things she has to be thankful for.

Listen to her words and look for her nonverbal expressions for what she might not be able to put into words.  Try to listen through her ears and see through her eyes.  Don’t try to fix her but to understand her. She needs to know that she has a safe place with you.

If she doesn’t want to talk find ways to be with her.  Look for opportunities to engage her in physical activity such as going for walks, bike rides, or swimming, whatever she has enjoyed in the past.  Physical exercise is helpful on several different levels and with many children, physical activity can be actually more important than mental activity.

Encourage her to spend time with her friends or offer to have her friends over to your house.  Acknowledge any positive achievement and give her appropriate praise whenever possible.

If the symptoms continue you may want to consult with your pediatrician or see a professional counselor.  Keep in mind that while depression can be a serious illness, it is also a very treatable one.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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