Walking on eggshells………How do I parent a child who is depressed?
One of the most frequent comments from the parents of teenagers who are experiencing depressing symptoms is that these parents are unsure whether their actions would be helpful or harmful and are usually walking on eggshells.
Individuals experiencing depression may feel sad a lot of the time, lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed, or withdraw from their friends and family. They may experience changes in sleep patterns, appetite, energy levels, and motivation/drive. They may also express a wish to be dead or to end their lives.
Possible challenges to parenting a child or adolescent experiencing these symptoms include figuring out how to tackle withdrawal from family activities, changes in sleep schedule, and a perceived reluctance to get school work done. As a parent are you unsure if you should insist on maintaining set boundaries/ rules or relax all rules so as not to upset your ward?
Below are some reminders and tips you may find helpful:
Your child continues to require a parent.
No matter what mental health symptoms your children experience, they will still benefit from you continuing to fulfill your parental role of ensuring structure, routine and healthy boundaries. They are most likely experiencing a roller coaster of difficult emotions. The comfort of predictable family life would be a reassuring factor in what can be a tumultuous time.
Boundaries are healthy.
A lot of parents have discussed their fear of having boundaries in place or disciplining challenging behavior in their adolescent who is experiencing depressive symptoms. It is important to realize that a teenager with depression is still a teenager who may make poor choices and it is important to ensure that you maintain boundaries and they continue to know the consequences to expect. This helps to keep your child safe and is important to maintain a healthy atmosphere at home. Remember that other children in your home are observing and you don’t want to give inconsistent messages.
Activity scheduling is a part of the journey to recovery.
Having a predictable schedule and encouraging scheduled activity is an important part of the treatment of depression so encouraging your child to get out of bed at a regular time every day is important. Other helpful routines that you can encourage include self-care, looking after their hygiene, regular meals, and bedtime. I encourage school attendance if it is safe to do so. This is not so much for academic rigor but the structured routine it provides as well as the opportunity for social interactions.
Good habits are always good.
Healthy nutrition is important to improving mood. Encouraging the whole family to have some meals together can help break the cycle of social withdrawal, improve family relationships, and helps to ensure they are adequately nourished. It would also be important to ensure that they get enough sleep. Depression can also mean that teenagers want to be in bed all the time. In such instances, encouraging them to get out of bed at a reasonable hour and to stay out of bed during the day may be the habit to promote.
The elephant in the room.
Parents are frequently unsure how to approach talking about their Child’s mental health symptoms/ diagnosis at home. It is important to find a middle ground. It is important to let your child know you are a calm reassuring presence in their lives, you are open to hearing about their challenges and will not become upset at what they will discuss. There may be a need to balance this with letting them know that their space with their therapist or mental health professional is confidential and you do not need to know every single thing they choose to discuss in those settings. You can also let them know they can choose to wait to discuss some matters with their health care professional but agree on a safety plan to discuss risk issues with you in times of crisis instead of waiting for their next appointment. I always encourage teenagers to discuss suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm with their parents so that parents know to get them help as soon as possible.
If you have any concerns that your child may be at risk of harm to themselves at any time, please contact your health care professional or proceed to the nearest Emergency Department.
Dr Tolulope Alugo