A few days ago, I noticed that my usually silly and smiling seven year old looked a little flatter than usual. She slept more and wanted to do less throughout the day, whether it was our daily dog walk or home schooling.
Earlier this week, 10 of Britain’s top child health experts wrote an open letter saying anxiety and depression are at ‘frightening levels’ in children, which prompted me – and many parents like me – to ask the question: can young children become depressed?
“That’s a very good question,” says Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, a consulting clinical psychologist who works with children both privately and in the NHS. “I’m not sure if I use the word depression with a capital D, but young children can certainly get bad mood when all the things that usually give them pleasure – be it play time with their friends, kids. birthday parties or grandma’s hugs – just aren’t there.
“And think about how long this pandemic lasted, compared to the life of a child. A year is not an insignificant amount of time for an adult, but for a child it must seem like an eternity.
However, Kilbey adds, “If we talk about depression in terms of young children, it can put adults on their feet slightly and make them think of depression as something rare or serious. But in reality, depression in children is much more common than that. It is noticing that your child is not as usual; maybe there is a loss of pleasure from the things they usually enjoy; a change in appetite or sleep; they can get bored more easily and have a hard time caring, and become snarling more easily.
Here’s how to help them …
1. Acknowledge your sadness
“Let them know you’ve noticed that they don’t seem very happy right now, by voicing your concerns in a caring, non-judgmental manner,” says Stevie Goulding, parent helpline manager at Young minds, a child and youth mental health charity. “Try not to ask too many questions, find quick fixes, or cover up their sadness. Empathize with what they are feeling – let them know they can talk to you as often and for that long. that they need it.
2. Look for little touches of joy
“Young children are natural pleasure seekers,” explains Kilbey. “They are full of positivity and energy. They skip school, they see the beauty in the natural world, they feel that everything is wonderful. She advises helping them find a little joy in everyday life: “Make pancakes together in the morning before starting work or school at home, feed the birds, take a bubble bath, prepare a Friday night movie night. and pizza. Find little things you can do together to lift your spirits and bring joy every day.