HELPING YOUR TEEN COPE WITH DEPRESSION
Feeling low-spirited and down occasionally for a few days is normal for teens, but when the feelings of sadness or irritability last for a few weeks or even months, the cause might be depression. Recent surveys across the USA determined that up to 29% of high school students might be depressed. So, how do you know if your teen is depressed?
The most common signs of depression are a persistent low mood that affects feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Feelings of sadness, irritability, hopelessness and worthlessness, a lack of energy, changes in eating habits, and trouble sleeping are also frequent symptoms.
In order to distract themselves from these feelings, teens may engage in harmful behaviors such as drinking, drug use, truancy, and hurting themselves or getting into fights. As a parent, you can help your teen cope with depression.
Here are a few strategies:
1. Let your teen know you are interested in how she is feeling. Make sure she knows you are available to listen to and to talk to her. Let her choose the moment when she is ready to open up. Invite her to have a conversation, but do not force her.
2. Empathize with your teen. When your son/daughter starts to talk, do not jump into solutions for your teen. Instead, listen actively without judgement and do your best to understand emotionally what your teen goes through. Do not try to fix him/her, but simply be there for her.
3. Encourage your teen to keep up with her daily activities, even if this is for shorter time periods. Participating in activities she enjoys will distract her, help her relax, and feel connected to others.
4. Give your teen opportunities to be active without being critical. For instance, instead of saying: “You should really get up and do something.” say: “I am going to the mall for an errand. Let me know if you want to come with me.” Inviting your teen to do something with you shows that you care and respect her without forcing her.
5. Accentuate the positive. It is important to recognize the positive things your teen is doing such as going to school, holding down a part-time job, or doing the dishes. We all like to be appreciated for doing a good job, even when it is expected from us. So, let her know you are proud of what she does and that she could be proud of herself as well.
6. Suggest your teen keep a journal. Writing about feelings, drawing, coloring, or writing poetry are some ways that can help teens express themselves. Often being able to identify and express feelings will improve how your teen feels.
7. Talk to your teen about seeing a professional who should be able to provide treatment. A mental health professional, a health care provider, a school counselor, or a clergy person might be persons who can help your teen get better.
Depression is a tough time for your teen. Showing her support by building empathy and understanding will help her not feeling alone. Oftentimes, when your teen shows several signs of depression, she probably needs professional attention.
WHAT TO SAY AND NOT TO SAY TO YOUR ANXIOUS CHILD
When your child is feeling anxious, even the most well-meaning parents may unknowingly pronounce hurtful words to their child. So, instead of alleviating your child’s anxious feelings, you will dismiss them. It is essential to remain calm and positive when encountering your child’s anxiety.
Here are 7 phrases to avoid and what to say instead:
1. “Don’t worry.” Saying these words will not prevent your child from worrying as She already does. This statement implies that her worries are unreasonable or unacceptable. Instead, say to your child “Can you tell me more about your worries?”
2. “It is not big deal.” Children generally know that their worries are indeed a big deal as they can affect their school performance, their relationships with their peers or their family. So instead, try this: “I notice you are feeling very anxious about this. Let’s do deep breathing exercises together.”
3. “You will be fine.” Your child will not feel reassured by this statement, as it does not resonate with what she experiences. Instead, give her some emotional support by saying “I am here to help you.”
4. “There is nothing to be afraid of.” Children do fear a lot of things in their daily life: judgement, peer rejection, failure at school or in sport/artistic activities. To ease your child’s fear, open the conversation by saying “Let’s talk about that.”
5. “I will do it.” When a child gets stuck because she is anxious, you might be tempted to do the task yourself. However, this does not help your child build coping skills. Instead, support your child by saying “I know you feel anxious about this. I am here to support you. What do you think is the best way to do it?”
6. “Stop thinking about that.” Your child would probably love to do this but cannot. So, instead give her support by saying “Let’s talk to your worried brain by telling it positive stuff.”
7. “I don’t know what you need.” This statement will frighten your child as she relies on you to help her. If you express helplessness, your child’s anxiety will spike. Try this phrase: “Let’s find strategies to help calm your mind right now.”
Coping with anxiety is a learning process that takes time, patience, and practice. By responding with compassion and by exploring with your child different strategies, she will progressively become better at dealing with her anxiety.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.