Parenting is already a tough job. Parenting a child with depression is even tougher. Keep in mind that depression is a medical condition. Your child is not acting this way on purpose, and it is not your fault.

Here are some things you can do to help your child with depression:

Honor  your child’s feelings 
It is difficult to see your child sad and in pain. Your first response might be to try to cheer him or her up, however, trying to make depressed children and teens happy makes them feel like depression can be “willed” away. It is more helpful to listen. Acknowledge their feelings and take them seriously.

Be aware of the importance of co-regulation
Our children and teens are directly influenced by our own moods and behaviours. When we are dysregulated, it is likely that our state of being will have a negative impact on our child. Where possible, ensure that you are calm and regulated before attempting to help your child to regulate their own emotions. Give yourself time to respond to things if you are upset vs. dealing with it immediately.

Use encouraging statements rather than criticism and punishment
Instead of complaining about their behaviour, notice something they did that was positive, no matter how small. Build up their sense of self-worth. Be prepared for their behaviour to be challenging at times, as depression has many faces. In some children and teens, irritability and aggression are symptoms of depression.

Separate the deed from the doer
Approach behaviour together as a problem for both of you to solve. For example, say something that focuses on the behavior, not your child, like “I know it has been hard for you to (fill in desired behaviour). What can we do to make sure it happens? How can I help?”

Focus on logical consequences rather than punishment
For example, if your child misuses technology, talking about what they learned from their mistakes, how they can make amends, and having open conversations about what limits will be in place regarding technology are more impactful than just taking away the device for unlimited periods of time.

Help your child build a “feeling vocabulary”
Many people have difficulty finding the words to describe how they are feeling. Helping children and teens to label their feelings gives them a vocabulary that will enable them to speak about feelings.

Show unconditional love and support
Many depressed children and teens feel unloved and unlovable. Say, “I love you” often. Hug or pat him or her on the back. With young children, be sure to cuddle together.

Encourage your child to engage in activities
Consider the activities your child enjoys and suggest doing those together. But don’t force, threaten, or bribe him or her to do so. If your child is not feeling well enough to participate, honor that feeling. Encourage socializing with positive peers: especially for adolescents, having a sense of belonging with peers helps to improve mood and well-being.

Create good sleeping habits
Children and teens with depression often have difficulty sleeping. This leads to more irritability and exhaustion. Sticking to a consistent bedtime, stopping or limiting caffeine intake, limiting screen time before bed and getting regular exercise can improve the quality and quantity of sleep.

Ensure good nutrition and encourage healthy eating
The brain depends on good food to function at it’s best. Help your child or teen to understand the importance of feeding not just the body, but the brain, and that one of the ways they can start to feel better is to make sure they are eating well. Don’t force them to eat, but make sure you provide healthy options they like and reinforce good choices they make.

Communicate with your child or teen’s school
Make sure that staff at the school are keeping an eye on your child and aware of your concerns as well as the things you have put in place for support. Ask what school has noticed about your child and inquire about supports the school can offer. Work with the staff to make accommodations for your child or teen where needed, such as having a trusted adult check in with them during the day or week, and being aware of peer interactions.

Understand that depression is a medical condition
Although it is often difficult to keep your cool when your child is acting out, it is important not to punish or say hurtful things. Your child can’t help feeling and behaving the way he or she does. You can be angry at the depression while still feeling love and concern for your child who is hurting.