Time explores how parents can better understand and talk to adolescents with depression and anxiety.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Fadi Haddad provides information and advice in his book Helping Kids in Crisis. Some of his main tips are offered below.
- Talk about the real stuffOften parents and their kids talk mainly about surface-level topics such as achievements, schedules, and chores. Haddad advises parents to delve deeper into their kids’ lives, struggles, and dreams. Ask them, “What’s the best part of your day?” and talk to them about the thoughts or situations that keep them up at night.
- Give them space, but pay attention
Parents should find the precarious balance between giving their kids room to grow into who they are, while remaining actively aware. In particular, parents should be on the lookout for major changes in behavior. Is your child giving up activities he or she used to enjoy, changing sleeping or eating habits, or becoming withdrawn? Talk to them about your concerns without judgment.
- Resist getting angry
It is easy to get angry when a child is having behavioral issues, hiding something, or acting out. Haddad advises parents to respond with understanding and concern, not anger or punishment. Compassion is a better response to a kid who is self—harming, skipping, school, etc. Offer to listen and help.
- Don’t put off getting help
Reach out to your child’s school counselor, or speak with a therapist or doctor if you are concerned. Getting help earlier is always best.
- Treat the whole family
It is helpful to view your child’s struggles as a collective issue to address, not a singular one. When a child is struggling, changes in family dynamics are often needed. Be open about undergoing family counseling.
To read more about anxiety and depression in children and adolescents, please read Time’s cover story exploring this topic in depth.