Helping Children Cope and Keeping Depression at Bay

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There are two extreme ways some people seem to view life. One says, “Life is long, painful, and we all die in the end.” Wow, that’s a downer. Are you sure you want to keep reading? Well, how’s this? “Life is a sweet, melodious journey filled with love and joy.” Much better. But what about the truths in between? What about the balance of dark and light? And more importantly, how do you communicate that to a child? How do we ensure they look at life as a joy and a gift, in spite of the moments when it feels like a chore? How do we let them know they are valuable and their life will be what they make it, not what someone else says it is?

It’s not easy. I know, because somewhere along the line, I didn’t get the message. My failure to see the glass as half-full brought me to my knees. Actually, it was more like I was in sand up to my neck. Laxatives became my best friend, and they are related to bulimia. Bulimia was more than happy to bring in her friend depression, and then completed the party with her close relative: suicide attempts.

Thankfully, hospitalization jumped in and helped me out. She had a little help from the small voice in my head that managed to filter through all the poisonous noise and guide me back to health. This whole process started when I was 11 years old and ended with three suicide attempts at age 25.

In reality, it hasn’t really “ended.” Each day is a new silent struggle, but I manage to get through it by telling myself the things I wish someone had told me when I was young and knowing that while it’s true life will have its end, somewhere in between there will be happiness.

What are those things I wish someone had told me? Well, it’s not just saying something; it’s living and emulating behaviors. Things that will transform a child into a compassionate, self-aware adult. In the ever-changing game of life, there is not one magic formula to prevent a person from spiraling into depression, succumbing to the lies of a bully, or continuing a cycle of violence. We never know what action or affirmation might pull someone from the rubble—so we’ve got to offer as many as we can.

You Don’t Have to Be a Parent. Some of the greatest influencers in my life weren’t my parents. They were the neighbors with whom I have been friends for nearly 40 years, my Big Sister who was matched with me over 30 years ago, and my beloved grandmother. They always seemed to know when I needed someone and cared enough to provide support. Whether or not I shared my feelings all the time was irrelevant, as long as I had a friend to call my own. You too can be the mentor, “big brother/sister,” great neighbor, coach, or advocate a young person needs.

Be Kind. Give children more than words of praise; show them kindness. Bring them into the circle if they are standing off to the side. Offer them a chance to show their strengths. Kindness is powerful. When a young boy desperately needed attention, I welcomed him into my home and treated him like family. That was eight years ago. Now 12, he comes over to brag about his accomplishments, ask for advice, or offer to help around the yard. When there is trouble at home, he visits until he feels things have settled down. His parents once thanked me for giving him a safe place to go; whether or not it was his own home, the important thing was that he had one.

Be a Friend. We are told we can’t be a mother, father, aunt, uncle, etc. and still be a friend at the same time. But yes, you can, and you must. Every young person needs an adult friend. They need to know there is someone standing behind them to pick them up when they fall, to laugh and cry with them. If they don’t have a trusted friend, they will never learn to ask for help when they need it. It’s a fine line, but I trust you can learn how to walk it.

Communicate. Each night after the lights are turned off, I ask my kids if there is anything on their minds, anything they saw or heard that confused them. The darkness gives them anonymity to speak freely. Some of our best conversations are held at this time, and it’s built a foundation for trust and confidence. Find your communication groove with the young people who need you in their lives.

Have Faith. I am not a religious person, but I had faith in something when I needed it. You can have faith in a pet rock for all I care—if that rock gets you through the day, it’s the most powerful possession you have. Teach your child to believe in both themselves and something outside of them.

Move On. We all make mistakes, some of them more serious than others, but we’ve got to pick ourselves up and move forward. We can’t let the mistakes define us or fester inside. The mind is a tricky thing; it can consume you and bring you to a place from which you may not be able to return. Don’t give it that chance. Teach children to forgive themselves, and if they can do this, they can recover.

Share. Be honest. Tell them you’ve had a hard time. Don’t be ashamed. It’s OK to struggle. Where you are today isn’t the only thing that matters; your journey does. Let others learn from it—like Aesop’s fables, every story has a moral.

Above all, tell young people there is hope when they feel lost, that they must ask for help when they need it, that they can talk to you—no matter what—and you will hear what they say. There are many things in life that hurt like hell, but there is an incredible rainbow on the other side waiting for us. All the angst children and teens are experiencing may define their life, but it can do so in an incredibly positive and powerful way. Make them believe that.

How do communicate with the children in your life?

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Comments

  1. says

    There is so much good advice in here. I think more children suffer from depression than we imagine, and they need our love and support and understanding. Thanks for sharing this – and your own story.

  2. says

    We need more parents to understand this, it is heart breaking to hear and see what kids are going through. My husband works in a low income school where several kids are homeless, they need love and support. And no judgemnets.

  3. Shauna says

    Great tips. I went through a lot of depression as a pre-teen and it was rough. Having someone to talk to really helped.

  4. says

    I try to be as calm, loving and peaceful as possible when I’m with my grandchildren. And I try to tell them how wonderful they are and that they can be anything they want to be. I try to lift them up and would never say anything to make them feel less than.

  5. brett says

    honesty. i don’t sugar coat things. but then, my kids have had their grama die from smoking, while the other continued to smoke in front of them, a grampa with alzheimers…

    i don’t tell my kids they are the best at everything. i praise them, i’m proud of them, but i don’t set up unrealistic expectations of the world.

    i worked at a psych practice that specialized in treating eating disorders. i’ve seen how bad it can get. i’ve called 911 because it wasn’t going to wait until the current session ended…

    i love my kids fiercely but i also try to teach them the coping skills of life :)

    • Karen says

      Your kids are lucky to have you! I am so glad I am not alone in letting them know that the world is an imperfect place and we are imperfect beings.

  6. says

    I was angry and depressed all the time as a child and it wasn’t a good feeling. It wasn’t until my hormones changed and my life just turned with all sorts of surprises that made me snap out of it all. This is a good list of tips because our children really just need love more than anything. Love and understanding :) Simple creatures.

  7. Tracy Spangler (@MzRueAnn) says

    Thank you so very much for this post. I have also struggled with depression and panic attacks since a young age. Five years ago I hit bottom after I had been abusing drugs for some time. I was abducted, raped and had my car and money stolen by a friend of the family that then babysat my two-year old daughter. It was a long road to rebuild my marriage and convince my husband I had not just been off having sex. I still have trouble at times wondering how he could think so lowly of me, especially when he was also a drug user at the time. For a time he had sole custody of our daughter and I felt like my heart was breaking every day. During this time he said he was going to move away with my daughter and that he would never let me see her again. That was the only time I truly wanted to kill myself. It has taken a lot of time, and some good therapists to get me to the point where I know I’m a good mama, and I would never, ever go back to drugs. I now have a rare, nerve disorder that causes horrendous pain, which neither a brain surgery nor a nerve cutting surgery fixed. I try to find natural ways to cope with the pain, such as using essential oils. I will never be that person again, though I’ll admit I still live with a lot of fear, and purposeful isolation. I will not be the addict my mother was, that I grew up to be like. I want my daughters to always be as happy as possible, and if they ever face the lifelong depression I have I plan on being there to help them every step of the way, explaining what I’ve learn, faced and conquered.
    Again, thank you. This post resonated with me very much, and I’m very glad you shared it. You’re a strong women, with wise words to share.

    • Karen says

      You sound like you have been through so much and my heart goes out to you. I am so sorry that your husband treated you so poorly. You are just as strong, think of how far you’ve come!

  8. says

    My what a powerful message this is. I’m sorry you dealt with bulimia and suicidal thoughts. But glad you’ve made it passed and are trying to help others.

    It’s hard for me to see the glass half full sometimes with a chronic condition. One that takes away physical abilities that I think a woman of my age should still have. It’s hard watching the looks of concern on my kids’ faces when they see the scars that this disease has brought to me and the knowledge that it can’t be simply fixed. I try to maintain a positive attitude for their sake. But I do let them see my vulnerable side at times, I ask them for help, I tell them when I hurt and yet I hide when I cry and they find me and give me the hug I need to remember to be strong for them

    Thanks so much for sharing this important message with my #smallvictoriessunday linky. I hope you link up again this week!
    Tanya @ Mom’s Small Victories recently posted…Small Victories Sunday Linky {15} – The One Full of SurprisesMy Profile

    • Karen says

      I am so sorry that you suffer. It’s one of the things about life I’ll never understand. The most difficult part is trying to protect your kids while you try to heal yourself. They last thing they need to see is a parent suffering. See you again soon

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