Having a child with depression isn’t easy and it can be really hard to know what to do or say. Often we want to do something to ‘fix’ it. There isn’t an easy fix to depression, but there are things that you can do to help.
We’ve gathered a few ideas of some practical things you could do to support your child – not every idea will work for every child, the same idea may well be loved by one child and hated by another. Often it’s a case of trial and error, but hopefully the ideas below will give you a few things to try.
Getting a child out of bed, clothed, fed, and to school on time is a challenge in most households, but even more so when your child has depression. When we have depression, it can often feel too overwhelming to think about all the ‘getting ready’ steps in one go. Some things which could help this include: helping your child to write a list of the steps to get out of the house and sticking it next to their bed, getting their clothes out and packing their school bag the night before, having a shower and/or washing their hair at night rather than in the morning, and waking up in enough time to do everything before they have to leave the house (taking into account the slowing-down effect of depression). If you can, try and take time to sit down with your child at a time when you’re not in a rush, and ask them which bits of a morning they struggle with, then come up with ideas together on things that could help.
If your child finds routine helpful, try and maintain a routine on weekends and school holidays that is similar to that of the one you’ve developed for school days. This is likely to look different for each child. For some it might mean getting up and having meals at a similar time. For others it might mean eating the same thing for breakfast or having the same song as their alarm clock.
Going outside can feel like an impossibility when depression strikes, and when there’s nothing much to go out for, such as in school holidays, it’s really easy to hide away inside. Fresh air, and connecting to nature can be helpful, though; try and encourage your child to leave the house, or at least open the window. Maybe go on a walk with them – it can give you time and space to talk, too. Or if you have a dog, encourage them to walk it.
Maybe there are other activities that your child used to love but has since lost interest in – depression is a nightmare for sapping motivation, stealing identity and for taking the joy out of things which used to be fun. Gently encourage them to do the things they used to love – offer to do it with them. It doesn’t need to be anything big, it could be baking a cake or listening to music, just try to find something they used to love that you can do together.
If your child is struggling to motivate themselves, try sticker charts or other reward charts. Colour in a square for every day they manage to do something they’re struggling with, like showering. Even 16-year-olds often love sparkly stickers; they can make boring and difficult tasks much more fun.
Help your child to create an environment that they feel safe in. This might involve blankets, low lighting (fairy lights can be great for that!), teddies, certain pictures on their bedroom wall, or particular songs on a playlist. It will be different for each person, but it’s a nice activity to do together.
Spend time with them when you can. Remind them that you’re there and that you care. It doesn’t need to be anything big; cook their favourite meal for tea, sit with them to watch TV (rather than sitting in separate rooms watching different screens), text them during the day to ask them how they are; just let them know that you’re thinking of them, you’re there and you care.
Let people help you, and let people help your child. It’s hard and horrible to watch your child go through something you don’t understand, and can’t ‘fix’, but help is out there and things can get better. Talk to your child about the help they might want. Take your child to their appointments, ask the professionals working with them if you have any questions. Ask them how they feel you could help your child. Be open to different types of support offered, whether it be medication, talking therapy, or something different.
If needs be, talk to your child’s school. If your child is struggling to stay on top of work, talk to their teachers. If they’re not coping with lunchtimes or break times, speak to their form tutor or class teacher. If exams are approaching, there are often things which can be put in place such as sitting in a separate room, away from other pupils, so that it’s not all so overwhelming. Lots of children at school struggle with lots of different things – it’s not abnormal or unusual. It can help to make the school aware of your child’s depression – it can help them to help your child.
Your child might have moved to uni, or moved out – that doesn’t mean that you have to stop helping them. You could send cards or postcards letting them know what’s going on at ‘home’. If you can afford it, post them a fiver so they can get a ready meal for tea rather than cooking one night. Ask them about what they’re up to. Text them when you see something which reminds you of them. Visit (if they let you!). Check that they’re managing to balance work and life. Just let them know that the fact that they have moved out doesn’t alter the fact that you love them.
When things are tough, be there. Give them a hug after a rubbish day at school. Let them cry on you. When they wake up in the night crying, or they’re too scared to go to sleep, let them come and sleep next to you. Sometimes they won’t know what’s wrong, and neither will you, and that is absolutely okay; hugs can fix things that nobody understands.
Above all, talk to your child. Ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them. They may well have no idea, but just asking can let them know that you care and you want to do whatever you can to help and support them.
Please also remember that you are not alone in this; your GP can listen to your worries and help you get any help you might need, YoungMinds run a parents helpline, and your local carers centre might be able to offer some support. Try to look after yourself – you matter too.