Depression affects a significant number of Americans, occurring in as many as one in 10 homes. It may be tempting for a parent to hide their depression from young children, but the fact is kids know something is not quite right whether you choose to explain it or not. One expert has seven suggested comments that parents can use to help their kids understand what is going on with mom or dad:
1. The Parent Has an Illness
Kids know what it means to be sick. They understand that it has bodily symptoms. Children can be told that the parent’s brain is not able to send information from one side of the brain to the other. The illustration of passing a note in school may help kids visualize the problem. When information gets stuck on one side, the parent feels sad.
2. The Illness is All on the Inside
Though the parent is truly ill, it doesn’t always look like it on the outside. They won’t have a fever. They won’t get a rash. That is because depression is an inside sickness.
3. It Isn’t Anyone’s Fault
There must be a cause if something is wrong. Unless they are told otherwise, children will assume that they are the cause. Reassure children that the parent’s sadness has nothing to do with them or their behavior.
4. Crying is Fine – It’s Good
You can tell the child that it is perfectly fine for the parent to cry. It’s okay for the child to cry too, for that matter. Letting tears out is actually good for you.
5. Unkind Words are Not Meant for the Child
The depressed parent will eventually speak harsh words. They may even scream and yell. The child needs to know that the anger is not directed at him. The depressed parent is frustrated by feeling bad and once in a while gets mad over being sick, but they’re not angry at the child.
6. The Child is Always Loved
Every child needs to hear that they are loved. The child with a negative or cranky parent needs lots of reassurance that the unpleasant words and behaviors do not mean that the child is unloved. Tell them they are loved over and over again.
7. The Sickness Can Be Helped
Children should be told that the parent does not have an illness that can never get better. It’s important to let the child know that helping mom or dad feel better may take a while, but that there is hope. The parent might need to see the doctor for visits or they may need to take medicine, but eventually things will improve.