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What Every Parent Should Know about Anxiety and Depression in Children

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Many people think of childhood as a carefree time full of laughter and magic. Of course, this perception isn’t entirely accurate. Plenty of kids and teenagers struggle with huge challenges, including mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Fortunately, treatments are always improving, and the stigma around these issues is diminishing. There are many things kids wish adults knew about anxiety and depression—and many things parents and other influential adults can do to help young people manage these difficulties.

The first step, of course, is acknowledging that your child may be dealing with either of these mental health concerns. If you’ve noticed a change in your child’s mood or behavior and are concerned that they may be living with anxiety or depression, look for the following warning signs:

  • Irritability
  • Sudden changes in eating habits
  • Trouble with sleep (either getting too much or not getting enough)
  • New issues at school (not completing schoolwork, having behavioral issues, refusing to attend school, etc.)
  • Lack of interest in activities or people they used to enjoy
  • Low energy

Of course, any of these issues may be completely normal; we all have times when we feel particularly stressed, tired, or annoyed. However, if you observe significant changes that last for two or more weeks, or if the changes cause huge interruptions in your child’s life, you may want to consider whether anxiety or depression are factors.

The above list is relevant for teenagers, but what if you’re worried about a younger child? Before puberty, the symptoms of anxiety and depression can manifest differently. Children who live with anxiety or depression may become upset more easily than usual, show sudden nervousness around bedtime, or act out. Again, if the changes are significant, lasting for several weeks, or disrupting your child’s life, seek professional help to figure out the cause of these struggles.

In your quest to support your child and find the best solutions, keep the following five facts in mind.

1. Your Child’s Depression and Anxiety Can Be Situational

It’s possible that your child’s anxiety or depression has been instigated by their environment. Are they dealing with a family tragedy or personal trauma? Has a recent change caused heightened stress? Is cyberbullying a factor? As you take stock of what’s going on, remember to evaluate the bigger picture and think about outside influences that may be causing or exacerbating your child’s difficulties.

2. Your Family’s Medical History Could Be a Factor

Your child could deal with anxiety or depression depending on your family’s medical history or genetics. An experienced, licensed mental health professional is your best resource for knowing if medical treatment is needed or the best option for your child.

3. You Can Talk with Your Child about What They’re Experiencing

These conversations can be stressful and even awkward, but they’re vital. There’s no better way to show your kids it’s safe to come to you with their problems than to proactively talk with them about things they’re experiencing that they may not know how to handle.

4. You’re Not Alone

Many other parents and caregivers are walking this road with you, and what’s more, your kid isn’t alone either. There are many qualified professionals and mentors out there to support both of you.

5. You Are Your Child’s Champion

Learning to advocate for yourself is a crucial—learning to be a champion for your child is just as vital. You’re in a great position to model this habit for your child as you figure this out together.

It’s impossible to know whether the anxiety and depression your child experiences in adolescence will show up again in adulthood. But if it does, remember that the lessons you’re teaching them now will have a huge impact in future years. Teach them while they’re young to value their mental health and well-being and to seek help when they need it, and let them know you’re a trustworthy source of love.

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.