How To Speak To Your Child When They Are Struggling

Our words can be a double-edged sword. The right ones can inspire, encourage and have positive impact on children. However, when used carelessly, they can have a negative and long-lasting impact on our children, further worsening their mental state. 

Don’t Tell Them to Try Harder

  • Avoid making comments like:
    • “Snap out of it!”
    • “Just try harder!”

Telling your kid to try harder when they are already giving it their best effort can be demoralizing and cause them to feel hopeless. Instead, focusing on their efforts and the process of getting there could inculcate a healthier mindset in them.  

Do not oversimplify their emotions.

Your well-meaning exhortations to “cheer up” or “smile” may feel friendly and supportive to you, but it may also mean oversimplifying their feelings of sadness that might be associated with depression. They can’t just “decide” to be happy. While there are certainly benefits to practicing positive thinking, it’s not enough to cure someone of depression. Try acknowledging their feelings even when you sometimes don’t yet understand them.

Don’t Express Disbelief

  • How a person appears on the outside does not necessarily reflect how they feel on the inside. This is true of many mental illnesses, but also chronic illnesses and conditions that are sometimes deemed invisible. So avoid making statements like:
    • “But you don’t look depressed!”
    • “You don’t seem sad!”
    • “I haven’t been acting any different.”
  • It’s not uncommon for people with depression and anxiety to try very hard to “put on a good face” and hide how they really feel from others. These thoughts can become very intense and, in fact, are characteristic of depression itself—even though they don’t reflect reality. Know that you can never really know what a person is thinking or feeling unless there is open communication.

Avoid Platitudes

While this may be true, a kid who is depressed may not have the perspective necessary to entertain the idea—let alone believe it. Platitudes, clichés, and vague statements don’t offer much for someone to hold on to in terms of hope. So avoid making statements like:

  • “This too shall pass.” 
  • “Let it go.”
  • “You’ll get over it.”
  • A  kid who is depressed may have a hard time envisioning the future because they are overwhelmed by the present. You may feel like you’re offering hope by saying that, eventually, things will get better—but for one who is depressed may be frustrated wondering how long they will have to wait. Be with them through these difficult feelings, help them remain in the present and think about what they are capable of doing now. 

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