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  • Writer's picturePaige Wilcken

How Can I Support My Depressed Child?

As parents and guardians we have a big responsibility to care for our child in every way possible. This includes being mindful of their mental health. Here are some ways to support your child who may have a mental illness, but more specifically depression.

Signs Child is Depressed

A good place to start is knowing what the signs are of your child being depressed. Below are some of the signs to watch out for:

  • Being critical of self

  • Persistent bad mood including sadness, loneliness, and grouchiness.

  • Low energy and motivation

  • No longer taking enjoyment in activities they used to enjoy

  • Drastic sleep and/or eating changes

  • Aches and pains

Be Engaged in Your Child's Life

Most children simply want parents who love them and care about them. One way to show this love is by being interested and involved in their life.

Regular quality time spent with your child is often the best medicine to keep your parent-child relationship healthy. The time spent together doesn't have to be long or extravagant; what matters is the quality of the time that is spent together. This generally means talking about important and deep matters with each other so that the child can vent and/or ask for advice. The goal is to create an environment of trust so that your child can come to you with things that are troubling them.

Another aspect of being involved is being physically present whenever possible. This means that you should be attending their soccer games and piano recitals. You should be right there taking pictures of them with their Prom date. Let them know that you care about their accomplishments big and small through the effort you put into being there for them. It makes a difference even when they do not seem to care one way or the other.

Emotional Validation

Parents can often be tempted to dismiss their child's feelings. Their emotions and feelings can often be thought of as unimportant, childish, or temporary. However, an important part of parenting is allowing your child to feel certain emotions and work through them. This can be done through validating their emotions.

Validating emotions does not mean that you condone any of their bad behavior that may be tied to the emotion. It rather means that you acknowledge what they are feeling and are there for them while they experience it.

A great way to start validating your child's emotions is by building empathy. Keep in mind, empathy is different than sympathy. Empathy shows that you truly understand what they are going through. Sympathy is more about just feeling sorry for them. If you are wanting to learn more about the differences between the two then watch this comedic video that may just make you chuckle.

Here are some clear steps in knowing what to do in the moment:

  • Be genuinely interested in them.

  • Be perceptive as to what exactly they are feeling

  • Reflect their feeling by saying it back to them using a phrase such as "you are feeling..."

  • Actively listen

  • Let them know you are there for them

  • Be encouraging

  • Don't try to solve the problem but gently guide them through it

The most important thing to remember when validating emotions is to really seek to know what they are feeling. That way you have more of an understanding of what you would want to have happen if you were them.

Encourage Friendships

One of the best ways to support your children is to make sure they are taken care of while at school. This is done through the relationships they make with their peers. They do not need to make friends with everyone there, but having a small group of friends can have many benefits. Not only will they be able to learn valuable life skills from their friendships, but peer friendships can help reduce the chances of being bullied.

Bullying, aka victimization, is something that impacts mental health greatly. It has the biggest impact when those negative comments or threats are internalized. However, having good friendships can create a buffer between bullying and depression. By having a support system of people they can talk to and be encouraged by, they can better ignore the bullies at school and elsewhere.

Be Aware of Their Environment

Often the environment around the child can have an impact on their mental health. Things in their environment include school life, family life, academic struggles, being overwhelmed by responsibilities, or a combination of things. Try to figure out if there is something that can be changed or improved upon to help their environment stay positive for the sake of their mental health.

Encourage a Daily Routine

The little things that your child does every day can have an impact on their well-being. Some of these things include having good hygiene, eating healthy and regularly, exercising, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and doing a variety of activities in their day.

Encouraging your child to do these things every day can help their mental health. However, be mindful not to push too hard for them to do these things because it may backfire. Try to keep your encouragement gentle and loving.

Professional Help

If you suspect you child may have depression or if they have been diagnosed, do not be afraid to seek out professional help. Find a child therapist who can be a good fit to work with your child. Certain therapists specialize in certain therapy practices so here is a list and brief overview of the types so you know what to look for:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): the most popular of the methods. It involves giving clients the skills to cope with depression as well as set goals to improve symptoms.

  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): this can be a great tool for those with severe depression. It uses techniques such as mindfulness and learning problem solving skills.

  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT): this form addresses the client's relationships to help them be healthy and supportive. The child will learn skills to communicate better and ways to handle conflicts.

  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): combines CBT with mindfulness practices. Normally used for recurring depressive episodes.

  • Medication treatment: when therapy alone is not effective or if the depression is severe, often medication can help.

Don't Forget About You

Constantly worrying and supporting your children can be mentally taxing. Recognize when your well-being and mental health is being affected and don't forget about self-care for you. Don't be afraid to seek help from loved ones or from other sources.


There is no one who knows your child better than you. Use this knowledge and the love you have for the child when trying to help them. And trust me, there is no one more suited than you to approach them about such sensitive subjects. You've got this.


Depression & low mood: Signs, symptoms & treatment. YoungMinds.

Ehmke, R. (2021). Treatment for depression. Child Mind Institute.

Healy, K. L., & Sanders, M. R. (2018). Mechanisms Through Which Supportive Relationships with Parents and Peers Mitigate Victimization, Depression and Internalizing Problems in Children Bullied by Peers. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 49(5), 800–813.

Lyness, D. A. (Ed.). (2021). Childhood depression: What parents need to know . KidsHealth.

McVicker, D. (2018). 5 things you can do to help your child with depression. NAMI.

Petre, E. (2020). Therapist's corner - emotional validation. Child Advocates of Fort Bend.

Yan, J., Han, Z., Tang, Y., & Zhang, X. (2017). Parental Support for Autonomy and Child Depressive Symptoms in Middle Childhood: The Mediating Role of Parent-Child Attachment. Journal of Child & Family Studies, 26(7), 1970–1978.

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