How to Help Children Understand a Parent’s Depression

Many parents experience clinical depression each year. As if the disease weren’t enough, recognizing its effects on your children can be quite painful.

Studies have shown that children of depressed parents are at greater risk of not only developing depression themselves, but also of poor physical health, problems bonding, anxiety, poor self-esteem and aggressive behavior. Of course, different things will determine the severity of any potential issues the child may face down the road, such as the quality of the relationship between the parent and child, and how quickly the parent can recover and maintain a healthy mental and emotional state.

Though it is not possible to completely protect children from the effects of a parent’s depression, there are some things you can do to help your child understand and cope. While it will be difficult, children cope unusually well if their parent is honest, able to communicate what’s going on, and offer support as much as possible.

As communication is critical, here are some things children of depressed parents need to hear.

It’s Not Your Fault

From a child’s point of view, the world really does revolve around them. Translation: Children of depressed parents will naturally assume they did something to make mommy or daddy sad and angry. In order to help your child develop a positive self-esteem, make it clear that what is going on is not their fault.

You are Not Responsible for Taking Care of Me

Even if a child is convinced they are not the cause of the depression, they will naturally feel compelled to make their parent well. When nothing they do eradicates the sadness, they will feel as though they failed. It’s important you clearly communicate that getting better is your responsibility and not theirs.

I Love You

Let your child know how much you love them and that your goal is to get well so you can take care of them. Also, it’s important to articulate that if you feel you cannot take care of their needs properly, you will find another adult who can. Be sure to be as specific as possible about what need (driving them to practice) and who will help them (Aunt Sarah will take you and pick you up).

It’s Okay to Feel Your Feelings

Children will feel guilty for having bad feelings toward their sick parent. Though they love their parent, when their needs aren’t being met, they will naturally feel anger, sadness and perhaps resentment.

Be sure to let them know whatever they feel is okay, and help them find outlets and express these feelings. Drawing is a great outlet as is physical activity.


If you are experiencing clinical depression, the most important thing you can do to support your children is to take care of yourself. You are the most important person in your child’s life so taking care of yourself is critical to their well-being.

If you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. I would be happy to speak with you and explore how I can help.

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