Help! My Child is Depressed!

If your child is depressed it is important to understand the symptoms and treatment options available.

What is Depression?

Depression is more than having a bad day or feeling blue—it can take a serious toll on an individual’s life.  Depression can be even more overwhelming when your child is the one experiencing it.  Children may experience depression for a variety of reasons, but it often results from a major change or trauma the child has gone through. If your child is depressed it is important to understand the symptoms and treatment options available. This article will teach you what to look for and the next steps to take if a child you know is experiencing depression.

Depression affects more than just the individual experiencing it.  As a parent, depression in your child may be confusing.  You may be asking:

    • Why is my child depressed?
    • What do I need to do next?
    • Is it my fault?
    • Will they struggle forever?

Trying to interact with a child who is depressed can sometimes feel like a lost cause.  As a parent you try and talk with your child and figure out what is wrong so you can help them.  Your child may not understand what is going on or how to communicate their feelings.  This can leave you frustrated with “I don’t know” answers.  Siblings may also be confused about what is happening in their family.  It is the elephant in the room that no one knows how to handle.

What Causes Depression?

Depression is often not attributed to one specific event but usually a series of events.  Biologically, one of the contributors to depression is a lowered level of neurotransmitters in the brain.  These carry signals through the brain that cause one to feel good.  Situations like divorce, loss of a loved one, serious illness, moving, intense periods of stress, and even school performance can be contributing factors to depression.

Recognizing Symptoms of Depression in Your Child:

Some of the symptoms of depression in children are as follows.  It is important to remember that your child may not have all of these but still may be dealing with depression.

  • Change in eating habits: eating significantly more or less than usual – not otherwise attributed to a growth spurt
  • Change in sleeping patterns: sleeping significantly more or having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Change in mood: the child is often more irritable, sad, or angry
  • Decrease in energy level: your typically spunky child is now more sedated
  • Loss of interest: Decreased desire or motivation to participate in activities the child once enjoyed
  • Low self-esteem: this may show up as negative self-talk – “I’m stupid” or “I’m ugly”
  • Hopelessness: your child may not see the future getting any better for them
  • Social withdrawal: not socializing or spending time with friends
  • Increased sensitivity to perceived rejection: believing that most people around them will reject them
  • Physical complaints that don’t respond to treatment (i.e. Stomach pains, increased headaches)
  • Increase in crying over situations that may seem benign (i.e. not liking dinner)
  • Disruptions at school: either academically or behaviorally
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

How to help:

  1. Talk with your child.  Open communication is vital.  Reassure your child.  Let them know that you’re there for them and you are willing to walk through this with them – they do not have to do this alone.
  2. Find a therapist willing to listen to both you and your child.  Walking through depression with your child needs to be a collaborative effort.
  3. Connect with a friend.  You, as the parent, need someone to walk through this with you.  Find a friend who can be encouraging.

What about medication?

Just because your child is feeling depressed or going through depression does not necessarily mean they need to be on medication.  This is a conversation you need to have with your child’s physician or psychiatrist.  Medication is best utilized in conjunction with therapy.

Now what?

If you have a child who is facing depression, or have concerns about your child, we’re here to assist you.  Please know there is help available.  This is not a journey that needs to be taken alone.  Follow this link to schedule an appointment to talk with someone about helping your child walk through depression.

 

family-250x250Over 1,400 families in southwest Missouri trust the counselors of The Relationship Center to serve their counseling needs. With more than 14,000 hours of therapy in the last 5 years alone TRC counselors have the experience that can make the difference. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $75-$125 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here to Learn More About Family Counseling at The Relationship Center

Why Can’t I Connect With My Foster Child?

 

anxiety girlWhy Can’t I Connect With My Foster Child?

After pouring your heart and soul into your foster child, you are confused as to why they do not receive it with open arms, gobbling up all that you have to give.  You experience the pain of rejection as they toss everything you have offered them back into your face, seasoned with anger.  The experience of the disconnection resonates with both parties, and it is difficult not to take the child’s perceived rejection personally.

Attachment: What is it?

We’ve all seen them, cute, chubby cheeks that are attached to little bodies that we call newborns.  They are adorable.  In order for an infant to develop socially and emotionally, a secure relationship with a caregiver needs to take place.  Often times in the case of a child who has been placed in foster care, these secure relationships do not happen. From approximate ages six months to two years, the caregiver role is vital.  Caregivers who are sensitive and responsive to social interactions with the child, like when the child needs food, comfort or care, secure attachment is formed.  Engaging with the child through these events offers an opportunity for bonding.  Through these attachments children grow, individuate, and become functional adults.

Attachment: Why is it so important?

Attachment plays a vital role in an individual’s life.  Attachment produces a sense of belonging, especially within a family unit.  A child who is securely attached to parental figures will have a sense that they are valuable and worthwhile.   For a child who does not have a secure base, they will often take to wandering in their early teen years, looking for a place to belong.

In the life of a foster child, attachment is often lacking.  You, as a foster parent, can have an impact on that.  Kiddos in foster care report that just knowing that they were cared about assisted in feeling more comfortable.

A Caregiver’s Influence:

  1. Parents’ relationship with their child influences development.
  2. Infants use caregivers as a secure base to go from and return to when exploring the world.
  3. Caregivers response will shape a child’s perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and expectations later in life.
  4. Social support minimizes stress – for all parties involved.

Role of Caregiver; What Happens if it’s Not There?

When a child does not experience these early boding relationships, it often shows up in late childhood, early teen years.  In the case of foster care or adoption, it can seem like a sudden shift in relationship.  The effort and energy the new caretaker has invested suddenly seems unnoticed.  Children in foster care are there because of a trauma.  The trauma could include sexual abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, abandonment, and physical abuse.  When a child experiences a trauma, or repeated trauma, their EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient, gets stunted at that age.  For example, a child who experiences neglect beginning at age three will present themselves emotionally as a three year old even though they are much older.  This is important to realize because it speaks to the need that the child has.

What is RAD?

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry define several of these symptoms as Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD.  They suggest that most children experiencing RAD have had a disruption in the early relationships which often include physical or emotional abuse and neglect.  Those who have had “multiple or traumatic losses in their primary care giver” are also subject to RAD, including those who are in foster care.

Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, is a fairly new term within the field of psychology and is defined as serious problems in emotional attachments to others (AACAP).  This shows up with children not responding to developmentally appropriate social interactions – with individuals both inside and outside the family unit.  This can be confusing to the caregiver as it shows up as ‘mixed’, meaning that the child could be responsive to you and the ‘switch gears’ and be unresponsive to your care.  Perhaps the child is resistant to your comfort, avoiding you, or watchful of you.

This also shows up in being indiscriminate in regards as to who the child attaches to.  For example, a child may seem to bond quickly with a school teacher or Sunday school teacher, a coach, or a friend’s mom, regardless of the adults’ investment in the child.

Healing Attachment:

  1. Participate in activities: What activities does the child like to do?  Participate with them.  Get them involved.
  2. Safe touch: Touch can be a powerful tool, especially when done safely.
  3. Teaching: What are life skills that you could teach the child?
  4. Reinforce and remind the child of your love.  With both word and action, remind the child of your love for them.
  5. Set up expectations/family rules.  While it can seem contradictory, having guidelines and family rules offers boundaries in which the child can rely on.

Now What?

  1. Keep on keeping on: The child needs consistent love from a stable and secure source.
  2. Involve the child in therapy, but be a part.  Often times a child is sent to therapy and made to feel as though they were the problem.  As a caregiver, being a part of their therapy can be healing and momentum building in the bonding process.
  3. Learn to listen: Build the skill of hearing the child’s heart.  Refrain from reminding the child all that you have done for them.  This can be damaging to the relationship.

If you are currently a foster parent, or know someone who is, and is struggling to build the connection with your kiddos, we’re here to help.  Please know there is help available.  This is not a journey that needs to be taken alone.  Follow this link to schedule an appointment to talk with someone about working through the attachment process.

 

family-250x250Over 1,400 families in southwest Missouri trust the counselors of The Relationship Center to serve their counseling needs. With more than 14,000 hours of therapy in the last 5 years alone TRC counselors have the experience that can make the difference. We specialize in Biblically Christian and Clinically Proven Counseling provided by Licensed Professionals. Session fees range from $75-$125 and we have payment plans & scholarships to meet every budget. Have more questions? Click Here to Learn More About Family Counseling at The Relationship Center

Resources:

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2011, March). Reactive attachment disorder. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Reactive_Attachment_Disorder_85.aspx

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2005, May). Foster care. Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Foster_Care_64.aspx

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (4th ed.). Washington D.C: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Diehl, D. C., Howse, R. B., & Trivette, C. M. (2010). Youth in foster care: developmental assets and attitudes towards adoption and mentoring. Child & Family Social Work , (16), 81-92. doi: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2010.00716.x

Mitchell, M. B., Kuczynski, L., Tubbs, C. Y., & Ross, C. (2010). We care about care: advice by children in care for children in care, foster parents and child welfare workers about the transition into foster care.Child & Family Social Work , (15), 176-185. doi: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2009.00657.x