We’re here on earth to be tried and tested. It’s one of the most quoted lines used to explain the purpose of mortal life and how it fits into God’s eternal plan of happiness.
But tests are often not easy. And trials traditionally are not wanted. Watching your children go through either can be difficult, especially if he or she is dealing with a disorder like anxiety or depression.
Depression is the most common mental health disorder among adults after anxiety disorders, and children are not immune.
So how do you effectively parent a child dealing with one or both of these disorders? How do know whether this is just a phase or professional help is needed? How can faith in Jesus Christ help both you and your child to endure this test well?
Sister Carol F. McConkie, the First Counselor in the Young Women General Presidency, a mother of seven, and a former “mission mom” to hundreds in the San Jose California Mission, and Heather Nelson, a mother of three and licensed clinical social worker with over 17 years of experience helping children, shared their thoughts in this episode of Gospel Solutions for Families.
Amy: Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and we all feel depressed sometimes. As a parent, how do you know when it’s more than just your child being nervous or sad?
Heather: The times when it would require counseling or some other kind of intervention is when it’s getting in the way of their normal, typical activities. If they suddenly don’t want to play with their friends anymore, they just want to stay in their room, they don’t want to be with people, they’ve had a change in friends, they’ve been doing well in school and then suddenly their grades drop—those are all warning signs. When it’s consistent and across the board that they’re not functioning like they used to, you should consider seeking professional help.
Amy: How should parents react when they notice a child exhibiting these kinds of symptoms?
Sister McConkie: It’s important that we respond in a way that allows the child to feel comfortable and secure in their relationship with their mother or father. We need to make them feel good about themselves. If we overreact it becomes even more traumatizing to our children. They need to know that their relationship with their mother or father is something they can trust and rely on, no matter what is going on in their lives. Overreaction puts up a barrier, and we don’t want to do that. If we’re going to help our children deal with these feelings that are so negative and destructive, our responses need to be calm and patient and not filled with anxiety ourselves or cause us to get into a state of depression. The minute we overreact the child will think, “Oh my goodness, there is something really wrong with me or I’ve traumatized my mother or father. I don’t want to do that anymore.” It’s important that our children know that in the home there is absolute love, that that love is there for them no matter what. They need to know their parents appreciate them for who they are, that they are needed, that they are enough, and that they don’t have to compare themselves to others. By virtue of who they are as a child of God, they are enough.
Amy: How do we talk about these emotional issues with our kids?
Heather: I think the first step is to help our kids have the words to express and talk about what’s going on with their feelings. So, when you’re reading with your children, point out pictures and ask, “How do you think they’re feeling?” “What do you think is going on with them?” The earlier we can help to encourage talking about feelings and especially their feelings, the more open the communication will be later. With older kids, parents can be proactive in saying things like, “I’ve noticed you’ve been feeling really sad. Can you tell me what’s going on?” Talking about feelings is good. Talking about our feelings with our children is great. I think if we’re modeling that behavior, the kids will understand that it’s okay to be honest about your feelings and to talk to someone about it.
Amy: Why is it so important to turn to our Savior in these times of trial and teaching our children to do the same?
Sister McConkie: I love the description that Isaiah gives of the Savior that He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” We know that that description is accurate because He did take upon Himself all of these things as part of His infinite Atonement. It’s so important that our children know that they have a Heavenly Father, that they understand their divine identity, that they know that they have a Savior. Their understanding of the reality of these heavenly beings and heavenly relationships is part of who they are. That’s such an empowering thing to understand who they are. They are a son or daughter of God. They have a Savior. They can witness miracles, and we can have blessings in our life.