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Tips for parenting a child who is depressed

We understand that in these very difficult times, children and teens can struggle with feelings of depression.

If you are a parent who is concerned about your child or one of their friends, here are tips for starting the conversation. This guide on common sayings to avoid, and what to say instead, can help as well.

Below are parenting tips for a child or teen who is depressed, from the mental health experts at CHOC Children’s:

  • Show your love. Children need love, empathy and respect. Let them know you care and that this is important. Just be present, sit with them and reassure them that you understand how they feel.
  • Make a date. Schedule time to spend with your child, even if they won’t talk during this time. Schedule pleasant activities, preferably out of the house and active such as walking or going to the park. Before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, these dates might look like going to a movie or getting ice cream. Your child may not want to engage in activities. Encourage them to do it anyway.
  • Stick to a routine. Schedules and routines create a sense of structure and security. Make things seem normal – even though they may not be. Learn more about creating structure and routine for kids during COVID-19.
  • Focus on the positives. Track your ratio of negative to positive comments to your child. Your goal should be one negative to five positives.
  • Stay calm. Kids who are depressed are very sensitive. Small things set them off, so communicate calmness through your voice and body language.
  • Develop a positive environment and atmosphere to help your child relax. Make a list of fun things to do and follow through with them.
  • Take care of yourself. Find a support group, exercise, or ask another adult in the home to stay with the kids so you can relax. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of your child. Learn more about how parents can deal with stress during COVID-19.
  • Find treatment for your child. Your child may benefit from some treatment to help them feel Options include therapy/counseling and medications. Speak with your doctor to determine what will work best for your family.
  • Get help. If your child expresses thoughts about wanting to kill themselves or is saying scary things, call 911 or bring your child to your local emergency department.

Helpful books for parents of children who are depressed:

  • “Depressed Child: A Parent’s Guide for Rescuing Kids” by Douglas A. Riley
  • “Help me, I’m sad: Recognizing, Treating and Preventing Childhood Depression and Adolescent Depression” by David G. Fassler and Lynne S Dumas
  • “Lonely, Sad and Angry: How to Help Your Unhappy Child” by Barbara D. Ingersoll
  • “Raising Depression-Free Children: A Parent’s Guide to Prevention and Early Intervention” by Kathleen Panula Hockey
  • “The Childhood Depression Sourcebook” by Jeffrey A. Miller

If you or your child are thinking about suicide or hurting yourself, please use one of these resources:

If you or your child is in immediate crisis and/or danger, you can call the Orange County Behavioral Health Crisis Assessment Team (CAT) at 1-866-830-6011. They will come to where the child is to do a safety evaluation. You can also call 911 or proceed to the nearest emergency department.

If you or your child is struggling, you can access these resources 24 hours a day:

  • California Youth Crisis Hotline 1-800-843-5200
  • Suicide Prevention Center 1-800-784-2433
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)
  • Crisis Text Line 741741
Learn more about mental health services at CHOC

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