Talking to Children PDF Print E-mail

Accept your child's feeling on his or her own terms.

Sometimes parents are afraid to talk about their feelings or ask their child how she or he is feeling. However, if you don't talk about depression, your child may feel even more alone. Here are some points to discuss.

Tell them you care

  • "I love you."
  • "You are important to me."
  • "I care about how you are feeling."

Say you are concerned

  • "I'm worried because I've noticed you've been crying a lot lately."
  • "I'm concerned because it seems that you are feeling angry and unhappy these days."
  • "I'm sad because you don't have much energy to do the things you used to enjoy doing, like hanging out with your friends."
  • "I worry about your safety when you . . . "

Understand their feelings
Keep your questions open-ended, rather than questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." You can say things like:

  • "Sometimes when people are depressed they feel sad, angry, alone, or just like they want to cry all day. How have you been feeling lately?"
  • Once your child begins to open up, you can make a simple statement like, "Tell me more about that" to get more information.

Work together
Most children and teens with depression feel alone and lonely. You can reassure your child that you are going to be there by saying things like:

  • "You are not alone. I'm going to help you work through this problem."
  • "We can handle this together. I'm going to stick by you."

Be clear and honest
Answer questions as honestly as possible based upon what is age-appropriate.

  • "You are going to see a doctor who helps people who have sad feelings. Some doctors fix broken bones or help you when you are sick. Other doctors help you with your feelings." (for young children)
  • "Some medicine makes you better when you have a cold. The medicine that you'll be taking helps sad feelings go away." (for young children)
  • "Some people's brain chemistry needs adjustment. Antidepressants help to adjust the chemicals in the brain to make people with depression feel better." (for teens)

Give hope
Most children and teens respond fairly quickly to treatment. Your child feels depressed now and doesn't realize that things will get better. You can reassure by saying: "Even if it doesn't happen right away, we will have you feeling better."
Don't ask why he or she feels depressed. Children and teens who are depressed can't answer questions like, "Why are you crying all the time?" or "What do you have to be sad about?" Asking them only makes them feel worse, like they are supposed to control their depressed feelings when they can't.
Don't tell your child to change how he or she feels. Depressed children and teens cannot just "snap out of it." They can't help how they feel and they can't make it go away by willpower.
Don't compare your past feelings to your child's depression. It's not helpful to say, "Well, when I feel badly, I just pull myself up by my bootstraps," or "When my childhood dog died, I just had to get over it'."

 


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If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 800-273-TALK or 911 immediately.