Little Kids Dealing with Big Emotions: Depression

It is hard to even imagine that someone as young as 3 could be experiencing something as intense as depression, but more and more research is finding that it does happen at a rate of about 2% of preschool aged kids. (1)  In addition, kids who are identified as having symptoms of depression at that age are at a much higher risk to continue showing those symptoms when they are older.

There are a lot of beliefs in parents and other adults that may be creating a well intentioned barrier to kids receiving the support and treatment that could help them avoid having these problems later in life. The first step in resolving a problem is admitting that a problem exists. As a parent, you might be concerned about your child receiving a label, thinking that it is just a stage they are going through, or that it is just a part of their personality. It may be, but having a trained professional take a look, could ultimately help your child have a happier life.

What does preschool depression look like?

There can be many similarities to what it looks like in adults. Here are some symptoms that could be pointing to preschool depression:

  • Frequently talking bad about themselves (“I am stupid,” “I can’t do anything right,” “no one likes me.”)
  • Not seeming happy when they are playing. Whether alone or with friends.
  • Negative play themes.
  • They might complain frequently about physical pains (stomach aches, headaches, etc.) and there is no identified reason for the complaints.
  • They seem overly sensitive and start crying or become tearful over small things.
  • Appear to be sad all the time or most of the day.
  • Changes in their eating habits, sleep habits, or activity level.

These are some of the key symptoms that can point to something greater than a stage or a personality trait.

What might make it more likely that my preschooler becomes depressed?

There have been a few risk factors that make it more likely that a child will develop depression. Some of those risk factors are:

  • Loss of a loved one
  • High family conflict
  • Mother being depressed.
  • Family history of depression
  • History of abuse or neglect
  • Divorce

What can be done to help my preschooler?

Therapy can help.

There are options if you suspect your child might be dealing with depression. A trained therapist or your pediatrician can help you figure out if it is just a stage or if it is something that might benefit from counseling.

A therapist can work with your child to help them build the resiliency skills that will help them improve their symptoms, but the type of therapy that has been showing promise involves bringing the parent into the sessions to teach them ways they can specifically interact with their child to improve their well being. Filial therapy and  Parent Child Interactive Therapy are two types of therapies that would fall into this category.

Also, being that maternal depression can be a risk factor, making sure that parents are managing their own symptoms of depression can greatly help their kids.

If you are interested in learning more about preschool aged depression and in learning more about helping kids in that preschool age range, sign up for my email list or if you would like to schedule an appointment to assess if your child might be dealing with some of these symptoms, you can click the “get started now” button below to schedule a time for a free 30 minute phone call or call me at 513-646-9708.

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  1. (2013). Treatment of anxiety and depression in the preschool period. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry52(4), 346-58.

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