Start the Conversation.
One of the most important factors to help your child through depression is open and honest communication. Listen to what your child has to say and acknowledge their inner struggles. Conversations like this are difficult, so you will probably need to get it started.
Start the conversation with something like, "Hi sweetie, I have noticed you have been feeling down. I care about you and want to help you through this. You don’t have to go through this alone. I want you to know you can feel safe talking to me about anything. I promise not to judge you. I am here to listen and try to understand, not to judge. Whatever you are going through, we can work it out together. Feel free to share whatever you are comfortable sharing with me. I will be here for you whenever you are ready."
Your child may not be ready to share everything, so don't ask too many questions. Your job is to let them know you are there for them, without judgment, and you welcome anything they would like to share with you. Showing that you care and listening without evaluating will get you much farther.
Focus Your Attention On Them. If you need to take notes or otherwise record what your child is saying, ensure that it does not distract from the conversation. Listen first and make eye contact so your child can see you are fully present. If you are looking at your phone or distracted by something, they may feel like you don’t really want to hear what they have to say.
Be Patient and Kind. Expect that the conversation will be difficult for your child. They might cry or become angry or withdrawn. It’s okay! They are going through a tough time. It takes time for anyone to recover from depression, but it is much easier with adequate support.
Don’t Blame Yourself. Don’t blame yourself for how your child is feeling, you mustn’t do so. It can be easy to fall into a, “What did I do wrong?” frame of mind, but if your child sees this, they will be less apt to talk to you. And, they may feel worse because now they are making you feel bad. Instead, give the right encouragement and express how much you love them without searching for a culprit.
Thank Them For Sharing. Let your child know how brave they are for being open and honest with their feelings. Do not dismiss or discredit their feelings. You might feel like some of what your child is telling you isn’t true, but their thoughts are real to them. Acknowledge their feelings without judgement.
Show Understanding. Repeat some of what you heard them say so you can make sure you understand correctly without making assumptions. After they feel understood, empathize with them. Empathy doesn't involve going into your own story, or saying, “I know just how you feel.” Even if you’ve struggled with your own depression, you can’t understand what it is like for them. Say something like, "I hear you say ____________ and I imagine that must have been difficult to deal with."
Validate Their Feelings. It’s essential to validate how your child feels and not how the situation is or how you think it should be. Avoid phrases like "you shouldn't feel that way", "you don't have to feel bad", "what you are thinking isn't true", "that's crazy", etc. Instead, validate their feelings by saying things like, "I imagine you may feel [scared, misunderstood, helpless, overwhelmed, etc.], "I empathize with how you feel,” or "I would feel the same way if I were in your situation."
Ask What You Can Do to Support Them.
Ask If They Want Advice. Do not offer advice when they haven't asked for it. Offering unsolicited advice can be viewed as condescending and can invalidate your child’s feelings. Most often, they just need to be heard.
Talk About Better Days. Ask them how they feel on their best days and how they feel on their worst days. Encourage them to talk about the positive moments in their lives. Ask how you could support them in having more of these positive experiences and days. Discover what is important to them and their well-being.
Help Them Make a Plan. Ask them what next steps they would like to take. Offer solutions but make sure the conversation stays neutral. Let them decide what feels best for them. Would they like to schedule talks with you? Schedule things they love doing each week? Read a book about mental health? Hang out with friends? Keep a journal?
Ask Them If They Would Be Open to Therapy. Talk to them about how therapy may help. Mention how they can learn things like how to manage sadness, how to think more positively, and how to feel less alone.
Show them you appreciate their honesty and willingness to open up. Tell your child you feel more involved and closer to them when they share what is going on. Thank them for their courage and tell them how much it means to you. Ask them how they feel after they open up. Ask them if there is anything you can do to help them feel safer talking to you.
Don't Give Up.
Sometimes we get caught up in our role as protective parents and forget that our child is separate from us. They have their own thoughts, feelings, and lives. Although we may believe we know what is best for them, they are intelligent and deserve for their preferences to be heard and taken into account when deciding on a plan of action for their well-being. Give your child a voice and make sure they feel understood and valued. Therapy can be a great option for your child to receive feedback and develop tools to live a healthier and more fulfilled life. The professionals at Dakota Family Services are here to help. Talk with your child about scheduling an appointment with one of our therapists.