Your depression does affect your kids, but little things can help.
This is a touchy topic.
Depression is a condition where, as a parent you probably already feel pretty awful, and yes, I have experienced this.
I had two preschool-aged children, was in my fourth year of university and in a very unhappy marriage. I cried, and yelled, a lot. It was only after I came through it that I realized. Ironic really, I was studying psychology and I couldn’t see what was happening to me, I simply blamed my circumstances.
So, I kind of want to tread carefully here, this is not about shaming or 'guilt-ing'. As parents we feel enough of that already. This is about awareness, with a few simple tips to help both you and your children:
1. Children are very needy.
They will do whatever it takes to get your attention. So if you withdraw, they will amp up their bad behavior to get you to take notice. The old phrase "they just want attention", is true. For a child, any attention is better than no attention.
2. Disruptive behavior will not just happen at home but also at school.
If a child is unhappy at home they are more likely to act up at school, including bullying other kids.
3. Children are intuitive.
Unconsciously they know something is wrong, so they will try and fix you. As they get older they may offer more hugs, or clean the house, or simply stay away from you because that’s what you tell them you need. But, it is not their job to fix their parents.
4. Children need to feel loved.
If they don’t, they will find it elsewhere, friends, other family members, the internet, sometimes in unsafe circumstances.
5. When you and your partner yell at each other, it can have a huge impact on your child.
Even if your child is in bed, they can still hear you. And it frightens them because they just want you all to be a happy family, they just want you to love them and to feel loved and they do not understand what is happening.
But all is not lost. It is the little things that you do that will make a big difference.
- Try just lying with your child at bed time, or even during the day. Stroke their hair and rub their back. Physical contact is very reassuring to you both and helps your child feel safe and secure
- If you lose it, later when you calm down apologize. Own your feelings, get down to your child’s level (literally sit or bend down so you are in direct eye contact) and tell your child that you are sorry. This shows your child that you are human, make mistakes, and that it is ok to say sorry.
- Pop a little note in your child’s school bag or lunch, or leave a note on their bed so when they come home they see it. It doesn’t have to say much, just "I love you" with a smiley will brighten their day. Even if you are not feeling the emotion you know the words your child needs to hear.
- Ask for help. It might just be an afternoon play with friends so you get a sleep, your GP or a therapist. Depression affects 1 in 4 people at any one time, so you are not alone.
- Exercise and good nutrition is the number one best way to help with depression. Exercise might include forcing yourself to go outside and kick a ball or push your child on the swing, but the more you exert your lungs the better!
- You may also consider taking your child to a therapist so they can learn what is happening to you, or doing a group that is specifically aimed at kids who have a parent with a mental health issue.
Want more? There are many articles on this topic, you might like to check out this one for more details.
Reading about other parent's experiences with depression and anxiety can really help normalize how you are feeling. You are not alone, and in the long run seeking help is far better than going it alone.
Leanne Allen is a Psychologist and Life Coach at Reconnect Wellness Centre. She can work with you in person and on Skype to better manage your depression and live the life you want to live. Want to know more? You can contact her here.