Is Your Child Putting On A Brave Face?

Make sure every member of your family gets the extra help they need.How to tell when your kid may need a little more help than usual.

It’s common for every member of a family to deal with some level of sadness during a separation or divorce. When it comes to children, change that occurs completely beyond their control can cause additional feelings of helplessness. With enough time, emotional support, and a low-conflict co-parenting relationship between parents, many children can come out the other side from the initial shock no worse for wear. However, if you find that your child is not recovering from the stress of your divorce, it may be time to consider that they may need additional help working through their emotions.

Sadness vs. Something Larger

Dr. Robert Hendren, former president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), explained to how to differentiate between more typical sadness and depression: “Normal sadness comes and goes and usually clearly relates to an incident, [whereas depression] is like a dark cloud hanging over the child, and there’s often a pervasive feeling of gloom, irritability, and loss of interest.” Reacting with sadness over the split of parents is to be expected, but if a child’s recovery from such unhappiness slows and begins to affect their enjoyment of day-to-day activities, it’s possible that something larger is at play.

One hurdle that many parents encounter when determining if their child’s low moods are more than event-based sadness is that depression often manifests differently in children than adults. Many adults in the United States associate depression with lethargy, the inability to complete formerly simple tasks, and a general lack of interest in activities that used to bring joy; however, depression in children frequently manifests as anger or irritability, symptoms that can be easily overlooked.  

Make sure your child knows they have your support.

Parents aren’t the only ones who may have a hard time recognizing depression in their children. Kids themselves may have a difficult time putting their feelings into words or adequately explaining their mental health to the adults in their lives. Having an open dialogue within families about feelings can help children learn that it’s perfectly acceptable to not only speak openly about emotions in general but that it’s important to discuss negative emotions as well. 

Children may not always seek out their parents when they encounter problems too big to handle alone, even if an emotionally-supportive environment has been fostered from the get-go. Helping your child express their feelings, especially during tough times, is important not only for your child’s well-being but also so that you know how they are doing emotionally. If the typical dinner conversations aren’t supplying a sufficient platform for determining if your child needs your help, try mixing up how you approach chats with them. Change up your bedtime question routine, lessen the pressure of a face-to-face conversation by suggesting they write about their feelings in a note to you, or use their favorite TV shows to talk about topics they may otherwise have trouble addressing. 

Communicate with your co-parent.

Most parents make an effort to communicate about their children’s medical conditions, sharing insights from doctor and dentist appointments. Mental health should be no different. Utilizing a shared journaling platform, such as the one offered by OurFamilyWizard, can be a great way to share insights and thoughts about your child’s moods and mental health. 

Consult a professional.

A typical case of “the blues” can usually be handled by parents and children themselves, but if you think your child is suffering from a larger problem that they can’t overcome on their own, it’ll be important to bring your concerns to a medical professional. Be it anxiety, stress, or just an inability to cope with the changes going on around them, working with a counselor or therapist can be a great help. Early diagnosis of bigger issues like depression, like with so many illnesses, can do a lot in helping your child recover from whatever ails them. Be sure to stress that bringing them to the doctor or psychologist is in no way a punishment for their behavior.

No parent wants to see their child struggle with sadness, depression, or anxiety. But unlike with a skinned knee or sprained ankle, parents may face a greater struggle with recognizing depression in their children. Keep these tips in mind, but remember that if you’re ever unsure, you can always consult your child’s pediatrician or other medical professionals for guidance and support.