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Dad’s Bad Mood Can Seriously Affect Children’s Development, Study Finds

Dad’s Bad Mood Can Seriously Affect Children’s Development, Study Finds

“Whoever does not have a good father should procure one.” ~Friedrich Nietzsche

Hundreds of studies have solidified the fact that a father’s love is just as important to a child’s development as a mother’s, and sometimes more so…

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Research has proven emphatically that, overall, the love — or rejection — of mothers and fathers affects kids’ behavior, self-esteem, emotional stability, and mental health. According to Ronald P. Rohner, Ph.D., director of the Center for the Study of Parental Acceptance and Rejection at the University of Connecticut, in some cases, the withdrawal of a father’s love, acceptance and presence seems to play a bigger role in their children’s’ problems with personality and psychological adjustment, delinquency, and substance abuse. And of course the transverse is also true. The presence of a father’s love boosts children’s sense of well-being and improves their emotional and physical health. …But this is common knowledge. Most people are aware and do recognize the impacts a father has on his children.

Dad’s mental state directly affects his children

Scholars from Michigan State University (MSU) conducted a study and their findings not only underscore the importance of a father’s role in the lives of his children, but it went on to to prove that dad’s overall mental state and moods have short and long term, direct effects on his children.

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In the study, MSU researchers collected data from about 730 families that participated in a survey of Early Head Start programs at sites across the nation. The researchers focused their attention on discovering effects of parents’ stress and mental health problems such as depression and anxiety on their children. They found that parents stress levels and mental health issues affected how they interact with their children and, subsequently, their child’s development.

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Daddy and daughter

    One of the most surprising findings derived from this study is that a father’s mental health has long-lasting implications that directly correlate to differences in children’s social skills (such as self-control and cooperation) by the time children reached fifth grade. In fact, a father’s depression during the toddler years is more influential on the development of a child’s social skills later in life, than are a mother’s depression or anxiety.

    The study also highlighted the fact that a father’s parenting-related stress levels have a particularly harmful effect on his children’s cognitive and language development when the children are 2 to 3 years old—even in the presence of a mother’s’ positive influences.  As might be expected, the father’s’ influence appears to have a stronger effect on boys’ language than girls’ language.

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    These empirical, evidence-based findings are a poignant reminder that every father has a responsibility to take care of his own psychological well-being in order to nurture and foster the well-being of his children.

    One uplifting and positive thing that comes from this study is that we now have solid, scientific proof that dads do play as significant a role in raising children as mothers do, and that their piece of the family puzzle is crucial in helping a child learn and grow properly.

    Changing dad’s mood

    Parenting is a daunting and stressful undertaking–no two ways about it. Especially for new parents. Below are some ways for dad to minimize the negative impacts his foul mood can have on his kids:

    • Accept the fact that you will feel stressed — Understanding and accepting that stress is a part of child rearing is key to helping reduce its impact on your mood. If you expect it and prepare for it–you can proactively minimize it’s effects on your mood and it can reduce the number of outwardly negative reactions you display.
    • Learn your triggers and work to de-stress as quickly as possible — Learning and becoming in tune with yourself is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Find out what situations, thoughts or moments cause you the most stress. Can they be avoided? What can you do to avoid or minimize these moments? Take some “dad time” and engage in activities that lower your stress levels–engage in a sport or hobby, take quiet time away, take a walk on the beach or engage in forest bathing.
    • Get help — If you are feeling overwhelmed or have a history of depression, anxiety or mental illness be sure to seek professional help. It is imperative for you and for your children. Consider the “airplane safety model.’ During the flight attendant’s safety speech, you are instructed to put your own oxygen mask on first and then help those around you don theirs. The message here is that you can’t help others breathe if you are suffocating.

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    Denise Hill

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    Last Updated on January 12, 2021

    Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

    Signs of Depression in Children (And How to Help Them to Overcome It)

    Children, just like adults, can be depressed. Sometimes seemingly normal children with no major life issues can become depressed. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain that causes clinical depression to occur. There are specific signs that you should recognize in your child if they are depressed. Getting them help and treatment is crucial to their mental wellness.

    In this article, we will look into the signs of depression in children and how parents can help them to overcome it.

    Signs of depression in children

    The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) is the widely accepted instruction guide that professionals utilize for diagnosing mental disorders. The DSM characterizes a Major Depressive Episode as depressed behaviors that consistently last for two weeks or longer. Therefore, if your child has been “down in the dumps”, feeling hopeless or having sadness for more than two weeks, it should be cause for concern and investigated.

    Below are signs of depression according to the DSM manual. The individual must have at least five of these behaviors present for a period of two weeks or longer to be officially diagnosed as having MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). Below is a summary/generalization from the DSM manual:

    • Feelings of deep sadness or depressed mood that last most of the day (for two weeks or more). For children they can present as irritable rather than sad.
    • Diminished interest in activities (again majority of the day or all the time).
    • Significant weight loss (not through dieting), or a decrease in appetite. In children, they fail to make expected weight gains while growing.
    • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia).
    • Either a slowing of psychomotor abilities/actions or an apparent agitation of these psychomotor abilities. This means that they either have moments that lack purpose and seem to be done because of agitation and tension or there is a significant slowness/retardation of their speech and physical actions.
    • Fatigue and loss of energy.
    • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt every day.
    • Difficulty thinking, making decisions, or concentrating every day. This may be reflected in their grades.
    • Preoccupation with death and dying or suicidal thoughts.

    Please note that if your child is suffering from the loss of a loved one and is processing through the stages of grief, it is normal to have these signs of depression. If they seem to be stuck in the depression stage, then it is time to pursue grief counseling to help them along in the grieving process.

    However, if they are not suffering from a bereavement or a medical condition that would cause the above symptoms, then they should be taken to a professional for possible diagnosis and treatment of MDD (Major Depressive Disorder).

    How to help your child with depression

    Depression is not to be taken lightly. Especially if suicidal thoughts are present. The child’s feelings and emotions are real and must be taken seriously. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the number two cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34.[1]

    Professional help is recommended if you believe your child fits the criterion for MDD (Major Depressive Disorder). You can take your child to their paediatrician for an evaluation and referral. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, they may benefit from medication such as anti-depressants.

    Most professionals do not dispense medication as the first remedy for depression. Instead therapy is the first line of defense against depression, with medication being paired with therapy if the therapy is not enough or the symptoms are severe enough.

    Testing

    There are assessment tools that professionals can utilize to help in properly determining whether your child is depressed. The three tools used in assessing depression in children are:

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    • The Children’s Depression Rating Scale (CDRS)
    • Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI)
    • Clinical Global Impression (CGI)

    Taking your child to a professional mental health counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist can help ensure proper testing and assessment occurs.

    Therapy

    There are many types of therapy available today. It is important to find a professional that specializes in childhood depression and the treatment of such.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the leading therapy methods in treating childhood depression. For younger children, play therapy is useful in treating childhood depression as children are often able to better communicate through play than conversation alone.

    What parents can do at home to help their depressed child

    Besides seeking for professional help, there are a couple of things that parents can do at home to help their depressed child:

    1. Talk with your child about their feelings in a compassionate and empathetic manner.

    It can feel high pressure to sit face to face and ask your child about their feelings. However, going on a walk, playing a board game or playing alongside your child (chose whichever is age appropriate for your child) can allow them to relax and open up about their feelings.

    Ask your child open ended questions that require more than a simple yes or no to engage in more meaningful conversations. Never judge while they are being open and honest with you because it will inevitably cause them to shut down and move away from being open with you.

    It is okay to allow for periods of silence during the conversations because sometimes the child is processing their thoughts and emotions during your time together. You don’t have to fill the space and entire time with talking as silence at times is helpful.

    2. Provide activities that help them relax and de-stress.

    For smaller children, there are simple ways to help them relax.

    Provide play opportunities that they find relaxing such as coloring, painting, working with Play-do or clay, or playing with sand and sand toys. Again, find activities that interest your child and are age appropriate are helpful in making them relaxed.

    3. Limit screen time.

    Technology is not helpful in making your child less depressed. It can often be an escape that keeps them from further opening up about their feelings and emotions.

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    Limit time in front of the TV, laptop, smart phone, video games and tablets, etc. Any electronics that seem to prevent your child from face to face interactions should be limited. Ask Dr. Sears cites that researchers have found kids who have higher levels of screen time are at greater risk for anxiety and depression.[2]

    Provide alternate activities to replace the screen time such as hiking, crafting, drawing, constructing, biking and playing outside, etc. Some children may be so dependent on their screen time as their source for entertainment that they may need you to participate in alternate activities alongside them in order to get engaged in the activities.

    You can’t simply tell your child to go outside to play if they are suffering from depression, lack friends and are used to sitting down and playing video games each day after school. Go outside with your child and do a nature hike or take your child to a playground and have fun together to get them engaged in these alternate activities.

    4. Promote outdoor time and physical activities.

    Encourage your children to take part in activities that especially involve nature such as nature hikes. Do these activities with them to help them engage in the activities. Again this is an opportunity for open conversations to occur and quality time to take place.

    5. Help your child when problems and difficult tasks arise.

    Assist them by helping them break down the task into smaller and more manageable parts. Children with depression often have difficulty taking on large problems and tasks and find them overwhelming. Helping them by breaking down the task into smaller and more manageable tasks will assist in helping raise their confidence when the small tasks are mastered.

    Small tasks mastered lead to bigger tasks being mastered over time. It is a process over time, patience and a willingness to work alongside your child. This does not mean doing the task or taking on the problem solely yourself. Many times all the child needs is for you to break down the larger task into smaller more manageable tasks and for you to patiently talk your child through the completion of these smaller tasks.

    6. Help your child reduce life stress.

    When children are depressed, they have greater difficulty handling life activities in general. Cut back on activities that cause stress to increase and look for ways to help reduce stress in your child’s life.

    7. Foster a positive home atmosphere.

    Reduce or eliminate negative attitudes, language and conversations. Also avoid raised voices, passive aggressive behaviors and any form of physical violence in the home.

    Make your home a safe haven for your child instead of an atmosphere that is ever volatile (in words, emotions or physically). Make it a calm environment that makes your child feel safe and secure mentally, emotionally and physically.

    8. Help your child see the positive in life situations.

    Point out the positives in a situation rather than the negatives. Help them see the bright side of any situation.

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    Be a model of seeing the positive in life by speaking words that are uplifting, encouraging and positive. Resist the temptation to voice negative thoughts that come to mind as your child can feed off your emotions and words.

    9. Believe your child when they talk about how they are feeling.

    Listen to them patiently and take their words seriously. Do not discount or minimize their feelings. Express empathy and compassion when they do open up about their feelings. Help them utilize “I feel” statements in expressing their emotions.

    10. Keep watch for suicidal behaviors.

    Such behaviors include your child/teen researching this topic online, them giving away their possessions and a preoccupation with death.

    Seek professional help immediately with the presentation of suicidal behaviors or thoughts. Keep this number on hand and use it when in doubt: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255.

    11. Keep all prescriptions, alcohol, drugs and weapons locked and away from children and teens.

    This is a given for all children, but even more imperative for children who are depressed as they have an increased likelihood to abuse drugs and alcohol. They also have an increased likelihood to attempt suicide. So keep weapons and tools such as ropes and knives that can used for suicide out of the child’s ability to use.

    12. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child.

    Make the time during your day, every day, to spend quality time with your child. You may have limited time and cannot provide an hour or more a day to dedicate to one-on-one time with your child, but you should provide a minimum of 20 minutes a day with your child spending quality one-on-one time together. Try the suggested activities listed in point #3.

    13. Be an encouragement and supporter of your child.

    Show love and not frustration or anger because of the situation and your child’s condition. Help keep your attitude positive so your child can also see the positive.

    Provide daily words of affirmation that are not based on end results (such as a grade or a win) but instead praise the effort they put forth. If you praise the outcome, they will be disappointed when their efforts don’t pan out. If they are praised for their efforts regardless of the outcome, their confidence is built based upon something that they can control (the effort they put into things).

    14. Help your child to live a healthy lifestyle.

    Sleep is a very important factor in your child’s mood. Not getting enough sleep can cause an entire day to be upset. According to Sleep Aid Resource, children between the ages of 3 and 18 need between 8 and 12 hours of sleep each night:[3]

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      Ensure your child is eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting physical activity/exercise daily and plenty of sleep time.

      15. Help your child foster positive relationships and friendships with their peers.

      Set up play dates for your younger child and encourage older children to invite friends over to your home.

      16. Talk about bullying.

      It can be one of the causes of your child’s depression, so discuss their life outside of home and their interactions with their peers. Help them recognize bullying and discuss how to handle bullying properly.

      17. Help your child follow the treatment plan outlined by their doctor, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

      Make sure you know the treatment plan that your child’s health care professional has outlined for child. This may include counseling session recommendations, medications and recommendations to follow through with in the home. Completing the plan will help provide optimal results for your child in the long run. A plan doesn’t work unless it is followed.

      18. Recognize that professional treatment takes time to show results.

      Don’t expect results for the first few weeks. It may take a month or longer, so be patient and understanding with your child.

      Depression in children is curable

      Depression in children can happen for a variety of reasons. It is quite treatable.

      Professional help is recommended if your child can possibly be diagnosed with a depressive episode. There are interventions that can be implemented in a professional setting, at home and at school. The key is having a plan of action to help your child.

      Ignoring the problem or hoping the depression will just go away is not a good plan. Treatment is imperative to curing depression in children.

      The first step is talking to your child’s paediatrician to get the ball rolling. He or she will refer you to specialists in your area that can help your child overcome and conquer their depression one day at a time. With you by their side, each step of the way you will get through it together and it is quite possible for your relationship with your child to be strengthened in the process as well. That can be your silver lining or positive outlook on the situation at hand.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] National Institute of Mental Health: Suicide
      [2] Ask Dr. Sears: It’s a Virtual World: Setting Practical Screen Time Limits
      [3] Sleep Aid Resource: Sleep Chart

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