Monday, January 25, 2016

Explaining depression to a young child

I think this is a really tough subject to cover. I've had to explain bereavement and illnesses to young children but as I am not a parent I haven't had to explain my depression. I have worked with young children for 8 years including children who experienced some really tough times and needed a lot of support. I have also been the child of someone suffering with depression and know how it feels from their point of view. I feel as though I have enough to share some ideas that may be helpful when talking to young children and a few things to consider.

Worry and change
When you suffer with depression it is noticeable how much your routine and behaviour changes to your loved ones. Somethings may be subtle but others are blatant. Children pick up on this. It is important to keep them up to date with what is happening. Telling them you need to go lie down or you're going to eat your lunch a bit later can help to reduce worry about changes and routine differing.

Feeling left out
It is common to push people away when you are depressed whether you realise it or not. You may become quieter, less able to join in and follow conversation, tired and want to be alone. Make sure you still cuddle your child, tell them you love them and are proud of them. Sit with them while they play or do an activity together. You may think your child will struggle to see you like this but they will struggle more if they feel suddenly ignored or notice you aren't around them as much. 

My child often looks concerned
Children like to know what they can do in situations and what is expected of them when change comes about. It also helps stop them feeling pushed away. You could give them a job like "if I look sad you could give me a big cuddle" or "if I'm sleepy will you get me a teddy bear and read us a book."
You can also give them a distraction. If you feel you need space on your own or want to be left alone you could ask them to "draw a picture for when I come back. I won't be long." Remind children that you will be back soon when you spend time away during the day.

What are those tablets?
I asked at a young age what the tablets did and remember the person saying "I don't want her to see me taking them", putting them back in the cupboard and leaving the room. I completely understand this now and felt this myself but at that young age I was alarmed. I knew tablets were for when you are poorly and I didn't know what was wrong. Young children are switched on enough to know things like this as well as when you make something up or avoid answering a question.
You could possibly say "they are my tablets to make me better because my head is poorly, it's making me feel sad but I'll be ok soon." 
It's easier to explain depression to children as sad even though that's not the dominant feeling for the majority. Talking about your 'mind' is not a concept they can grasp easily. It is extremely important if you use the word sad to tell them that they make you feel very happy and so do other people around you like family and friends. They may get confused that they are making you sad if you don't follow this up.

Always keep any medication out of children's reach, explain they are not for them to eat because they can make them poorly and that these tablets are only for you because the doctor said that's ok. Alternatively you could take medication out of sight from your child and avoid having to explain them,

How do I word it?
Simply and honestly. It may seem hard but saying "nothing's wrong" or "the doctor says I have depression" will only give them more to worry about or they won't understand. Try something simple like "I went to the doctors, because I felt a little poorly and sad. They said I need to do some getting better. I'll be ok but I might need lots of sleep. You could give me cuddles because that makes me happy and feel better." If they ask questions use examples they know "my tablets make me feel better like when you had medicine for your poorly tummy" or "you needed to sleep lots with your poorly tummy too, that's why I need sleep, to get better." Reassure them that you will get better and that they make you feel happy.

They don't understand.
Don't worry. If they look confused it's explainable. It's hard to work depression out for yourself never mind tell others. Let them ask questions and try to answer them the best you can again simply and change words to suit their age and knowledge.
Some children, for many different reasons, may not be as able to pick up on signs or ask questions but they will notice more than you think. Make sure you are still around, having cuddles and playing with them or helping with their routine wherever you can.

I don't want them to see me like this.
That is completely normal. I didn't want to burden others and it upset me whether young children in the family would sense it but seeing them really brightened me up. They gave me strength to put on a happy face and carry on with them as normal even though on the inside I was struggling. This may not have been the same with children of my own as I would have needed to keep this up 24/7.

I don't want my child to think I am poorly.
Some children may relate illness to hospital or death due to experiences they have already had or may understand that 'poorly' is worrying. Choosing words wisely and constantly reassuring them is the best way to conquer this. Use examples like "do you remember when you fell over and your knee was poorly, you got better didn't you, that's like me, I'm getting better soon."

Do I have to do this myself?
No you don't. You may not be able to do any of this for a while or may really struggle with it but it's important that somebody does it. It needs to be a team effort from the people around them. Speak with your partner, close family, child's school or childcare and make sure you all stick to the same explanations. You may ask a relative to look after your child while you recover for short periods of time or to move in with you to help out. If you are a single parent it is important you have support from others. If you are a couple it is important you are on the same page.

Much love,
Becky xx

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