Children often show depression through anger or being upset. They don’t know how to be depressed and act out instead. Understanding this, as a parent, you can approach your child in the right way. You would approach a sad child different that you do an angry child. Children need validation for what they are going through. The difficulty is that they often don’t recognize what they are going through. If you do, or if you have at least an idea, you can model for them how to recognize it. For example, if you child is getting picked on at school and is having a hard time with it, you could say to them, “It looks like school is hard for you right now and that it’s making you sad”. This would be instead of saying, “Hey! Stop being mean to your brother and yelling. What is wrong with you!?” It helps when you approach your child and give them permission and space to feel sad. It’s easier to accept and work through with someone who gets it. It’s not as scary when someone is with you.
Counseling for children uses the same principles. Children often act out instead of expressing their emotions. In therapy, children are given something to do instead of just talking about what they are feeling. This is partly how they are able to express their sadness. It’s easier to do something hands on then to talk about their emotions through words. A good play therapist will be able to help children express and experience their emotions through activities at first and then eventually through words.
Written by Dr. Triston Morgan, LMFT, therapist at Holladay Center for Couples and Families