Depression & Sadness in Kids

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Is my 7-year-old daughter depressed?

August 2008

How does one know if their emotionally sensitive daughter is just going through a phase or is truly depressed? Depression runs in my family so I tend to think it's the latter. Recently, my daughter, who has always been sensitive, can find no positive things to say, or rather finds the negative in almost everything. For example, when she goes to bed at night, after our routine, she decides to tell me how awful her day had been because of the ''bad'' thing that happened earlier in the day. Maybe she ''lost'' her favorite toy, but really it was misplaced, and she found it. She focuses on the ''losing'' part of the story, instead of the ''finding'' part. An incident that lasted maybe 5 minutes in an otherwise perfectly good day defines her day as ''awful'' or ''really bad.'' Nevermind all the good things that happened that day. I tell her to think about those things, ie. she got to go to the movies that day and see ''Wall-E.'' Instead of focusing on the treat that was going to the movies, she said that part of the movie was ''sad'' and that made her feel sad. I put my hands up in frustration! She's always been sensitive, but was really a happy kid. She does well in school, has TONS of friends and play dates. Her friends parents love her and are always telling me how lovely she is to have around. How come I never see this behavior? What's changed? Recently, I too have been feeling a little depressed and stressed. Is she simply mirroring my behavior and not really depressed? I don't know what else to think.... anon

Your child might be depressed, or you might be the person she vents to. I know that my daughter often talks to me about things that bothered her during the day near bedtime -- there's something about relaxing for bed that makes her more vulnerable to things that disturbed her. I don't make too many global statements but just try to listen and sympathise. I remember she had one friend she complained about all the time, and I wondered if it was a good friendship. At some point she told me she didn't talk to me about the ways the friendship was fun, just about the parts that bothered her. I suspect that your daughter is fine with the good parts of the day, and needs to talk about the rest of it. You might want to try just listening for a week or two and see what happens. If she's happy during the day, learning and getting along well with others it doesn't seem likely she's depressed. My understanding is that depression would effect her in more ways than in needing to vent to her mother. anon

Before you run off and have your child be drugged, realize that they are emotionally maturing around this age and lots is happening. My 7-yr old has suddenly been so much more emotional and dramatic than usual. In talking with friends who also have 7-yr old girls, I realize that I'm not alone. It's something that they're going through. If this continues for many more months you might consider other options. However, for now I would just chuck it up to the age factor. joj

It sounds like your child is pretty well-adjusted if she has a lot of friends and is well-liked by her peers and other kids. She may just be imitating you. I recently was depressed after the birth of my 2nd child, and my older one started to do exactly the same as what you describe your daughter doing, focusing on the negative, et cetera. I noticed that whenever she spent time with extended family members who are generally upbeat and outgoing, however, she didn't do the same thing with them.

It seemed that she also did it to get attention from me sometimes- when I am depressed I become spacey. I made an effort to talk to her about the upbeat things in my day, about my friends and hobbies, and that really seemed to help. I also accompanied her on the playdates and became closer to her friends' parents, and went to her preschool a few times to help out during events but also to observe how she was with other kids. I saw that many times she would overreact and dramatize something, for example, a child would approach her, turn away from her, and then she would say that child didn't want to play with her.

I tried to model being friendly to others and not taking it personally when someone turns away from you. If you're not in therapy, I highly recommend it. It really is helping me to sort out what is my own baggage that I am projecting onto her and what is her behavior. A helpful book is Raising a Secure Child: Creating Emotional Availability Between Parents and your Children by Zeynap Biringen. depressed mom who's been there

Apparently at least some of this is normal. In fact, the book ''Your Seven Year Old'' (from the Louise Bates Ames series) is subtitled ''Life in a minor key.'' I actually use some advice I got from the ''Greater Good'' website, and my 7-year- old son and I each list 3 good things that have happened to us during the day, at a special time at dinner. She may also be mirroring your behavior. I'd try to be more positive yourself, and react with sympathy, but not too much attention, to all the negativity (you know, the ''Ah, I see'' sort of comment). If this goes on for a long time, or gets worse in some way, or interferes with her enjoyment of something while it is happening, then I'd check with a child psychologist. Karen

I think it is the age!!! my always sensitive, always well mannered, happy little girl who is 7 tomorrow has recently turned into a raging tantrum thrower- I hear alot of ''nothing ever goes right for me'' ''I hate my life'' etc. and this can be over the smallest of things, like not reading a hard word right on the first try. Also focus has shifted to what she wants rather than what she has, which is something we have always talked about not doing. She would NEVER EVER do this kind of complaining to anyone but me. I HOPE it is the age. Please, let it be the age and let it be grown out of soon. I feel your pain

Read the book, Your Seven Year Old: Life in a minor key, by Ames and Haber -- it is very common for a child this age to appear depressed. I understand your genetic concerns and by using natural and effective means for curbing depression now can help for the future, such as making sure your seven year old gets enough sunshine, especially in winter. Diet can play a role in depression, too. I don't have any links to share with you, but if you do a google search for natural rememdies/prevention for depression, you should find some good resources. Former kid in a minor key!

I wouldn't claim to know for sure, but it sounds like there's a possibility that you're depressed and are just perceiving the same in her because of your own attitude. Maybe she just needs to get some of the negative stuff out of her system, and maybe you shouldn't repress that just because it makes you uncomfortable (or makes you worry that there's more to it). Maybe the bad stuff just stands out to her because everything else went so well. She's still little; she's not required to ''have a good attitude'' about everything, for cryin' out loud. Take a deep breath and let her have her frustrations/sadness/whatever.

I'm responding because I have a ''negative'' or pessimistic daughter. The 1st thing when I pick her up from school is what went wrong or who got into trouble, etc. She selectively chooses to tell these things first because there are plenty of good things that happen that eventually get out later. SO the negative is offset with positive comments as well. How I would distinguish between a pessimistic personality and a depressed child is if the child were sad or angry for no apparent reason, dragging around the house, or bursts of anger. The negative stuff is annoying but not necessarily an indicator of depression. Of course, if you are really concerned, see a professional and get an evaluation. Anon

5-year-old daughter's sadness

May 2007

My almost 5 year-old daughter, who constantly amazes me with her ability to articulate feelings, also worries me at times when she expresses things that probably mean something different in kid language than in adult language. Tonight when we were cuddling at bedtime she said ''I have a lot of sad things happening in my life right now'' and launched into a long narrative that wove together the death of Charlotte in Charlotte's web, a friend moving away, and a ''best friend'' from preschool who has recently demoted my daughter to ''2nd best friend.'' I suspect this last one is at the heart of her sadness and so I'm glad she can express feelings about it, but it breaks my heart to hear her talk about ''being on a sad path right now.'' Is this a good thing that she can identify and express feelings? Worrisome that such a little girl is identifying as sad? Anybody with words of wisdom to share? anon

Hi there, I have a similar kid, who is often painfully explicit about her feelings. Right now, for example, I'm expecting my third child (she's the oldest, at nearly five) and she says quite often that she's worried that 1) when the baby comes I won't love her anymore, 2) that because she's bigger and the baby will be small she will be less lovable than the baby, 3) that I won't have time to take care of her anymore etc etc. The middle one just wants to know if the baby will fit in the toilet. I've talked to her teachers, read books, and attended a lecture about helping your child with their feelings and the net net appears to be this: We should both thank our lucky stars that our children are telling us how they feel. We should empathize with their feelings without necessarily offering solutions (ie, with the friend at school thing, just saying stuff like 'how did that make you feel' and 'i can see why that would make you sad' rather than offering solutions, which I find very hard, but that's the advice the therapist at the lecture gave) while at the same time offering concrete reassurance (ie I say stuff like having a baby is a lot of work, and I will be tired some of the time, but nothing, nothing at all, will ever change how much I love you, and explain how daddy will be around to help and we'll have a babysitter she likes around too, so I can still take care of her etc etc). I also praise her for talking about her feelings, and have bought many books about feelings (When I Feel Sad, etc etc, can't remember the author, they're on Amazon). Her dad suffers from long-term, successfully medicated depression, so I feel my antennae wave a bit, but on the whole I just do what I can to be there for her. I asked her once, recently, what I could do, if anything, to make her feel better, and she said 'more hugging'. So that's what I do. Good luck, and let's both hope they keep talking to us for the rest of their lives. Abbi

If she can express both her sadness and the reasons for it, if she trusts you enough to tell you what's in her heart, and if you can hear it and give her comfort and a stable place to feel that sadness, I say you are a lucky mom and she's a lucky daughter. But I do understand your concern. It's hard to have anyone you love be sad. I recently found a book of poems called ''This Place I Know'' that might be a little old for a 5-y-o, but it is for sad patches in a child's life. The poems open up a realm of acceptance of emotion and then movenment through them that I thought was quite lovely. I found it at Cody's. you might also consider asking her to draw pictures during this time--even just draw with colors, not representational. Or you might take dictation for her words. Maybe she is a budding artist or poet herself. The point is movement through and expression of sadness. Otherwise, again, you--and she--are rather lucky. anon.

I can really relate. Recently, my 5-year-old son was at his best friend's house while his friend's mother was very ill (in fact, she died some days later). Her family was there, and the atmosphere was pretty serious, though folks were doing their best to give the kids a happy playtime. That night, when I was putting my son to bed, he told me, ''If you hear me crying after you go upstairs tonight, you don't have to come down to help me. I haven't hurt myself. I just feel really sad, and I don't know why.'' I just about started crying myself right then. Kids do have sad stuff happen in their life. And as hard as it is, we can't keep this from happening. But it's great that your daughter could tell you how she felt, and come up with an explanation for why she felt that way. It seems to me that the best we can do as parents is to help kids understand that sad things do happen, and that it's completely normal and healthy for us to feel bad, that there are things we can do to help ourselves feel better -- and that sooner or later happy times will come again. Also, that they can always tell their parents about what's bothering them, and we'll do our best to help them. Karen

I think it's great that your daughter is expressing herself verbally so well. So many kids this age express themselves physically and we are left to ponder what the heck is going on! Hooray to you for gearing her in the that direction and giving her a safe environment to express herself freely. Obviously you take the time to honor those sad feelings when she's expressing them. I would only suggest that after you honor those feelings, engage her in a conversation about the things that made her happy that day, what made her proud of herself. Tell her what made you happy (I always start out with telling my son that snuggling with him in the mornings and at night makes me very happy, even those little things count) and what may have made you sad and then weigh out that there was more happiness than sadness that day... or the opposite and remind her that without a little sadness, we wouldn't appreciate the happy times as much. Trying to focus on the positive without dismissing the negative, I think is a healthy way to promote optimism. anon

Seems like you have a daughter with a full range of emotions and how wonderful that she can A) articulate them and B )Invites you into her world with those precocious comments.You said you both were cuddling before bedtime - she must have felt that was a really safe time to express those difficult feelings. I can totally understand how you must be feeling as a parent. No parent wants to see their child sad even though we know intellectually that sadness is a part of life and is hence unaviodable. And the things your daughter said she was sad about are pretty heavy; the death of charotte, a beloved character, the loss of a friend due to a family move and the ''loss'' of her best friend via friend demotion - WOW! That is a lot to think about and process for anyone - let alone a five year old who is new to these harsh realities of life. The best you can do is listen to her with an open heart, validate her feelings and comfort her. You cannot take her sadness away but you can support her. Your daughter's comments were solicitous to you; don't pass up the opportunity for real intimacy with her just because the subject matter is less than boyant. Sometimes just sitting next to someone and feeling sad together can be a beautiful thing. good luck working through it together!

My 6 year old is similar, expresses her complex feelings very well. It is also sad for me to hear her express pain. But I also see her being happy and joyful so I think I shouldn't overweight those conversations. Additionally I think ages 5-6 are very complex for girls and the emerging of social issues like your daughter described are tough on sensitive girls, so expect more. The times before bed are sometimes particularly emotional for my daughter as well, she is finally quiet enough to real cuddle and doesn't want me to leave, she is trying to sort out her day. My daughter likes it when I tell her a story of my childhood. For example about a friend of mine who moved away and made me sad. But I try not to make it overly preachy and just assure her that she is loved no matter what by her parents. I also think I need to be very aware of her listening to the news etc because she is very sensitive to other sad things. So Net... I think the ability to articulate her feelings is great, and as long as the sad dicussions are balanced with joy and good coping provide her a safe space to discuss, assure her and watch the outside influences that are sad (our news!). That's what I am trying............ this mom

Good for your daughter for being so expressive. I have a 4 year old daughter and I know if she told me those things, I'd be sad and concerned for her too. I'd try to remind myself that ''being on a sad path'' might be a strong statement for an adult but could mean something less serious for her. I'm not trying to invalidate her feelings, I'm sure she is sad that her friend demoted her (5 year old girls!) but it's probably not as bad as it sounds. I think an important indicator for whether you should be concerned about something is how she is acting, her personality, does she really seem down, etc. It's great that she talks to her loving mama so openly about it. we all get sad!

I think it's wonderful that your daughter can express her feelings so clearly and so well. I would just encourage her to talk about the things she brings up and try to empathize. we all have different feelings given and we all try to make sense of our feelings often by assigning a cause to them - sometimes we're right. let your daughter have her sadness growing up is hard. this too shall pass

i try and remind myself, especially when my daughter is learning how to deal with an unpleasant emotion, that as her mother, i am here to help her understand and deal with her emotions in an appropriate manner. i can't save her from them. my daughter just went through a similar situation with her buddy from school, and she was demoted on the ''friend'' totem pole too. my daughter did not want to go to school, and even pretended that she was sick (she's three). my advice would be to be there to hug her, and give her ideas about playing with other children. it breaks my heart too! ct

Our 8-year-old daughter is frequently sad

Oct 2006

We have an 8 year old girl who is frequently sad, to the point of crying, without being able to articulate what is wrong. This normally happens close to bedtime and she starts complaining that she doesn't like to fall asleep. She also is frequently scared about what it will be like when she dies. We try to reassure her that she is a healthy kid who doesn't have to worry about that for a long time but she continues to be anxious about it. Her uncle passed away about a year ago from cancer and she talks about it occasionally as a reason for her fears. Any suggestions on how to deal with such fears and anxiety in a fairly young child? We've thought about taking her to a therapist, any suggestions on a good one? anon

Your daughter may have some form of anxiety that comes out when it is time to go to bed. Her whining & crying is probably her way of avoiding the act of going to sleep. If you have Kaiser Insurance their Pediatric Behavioral Medicine Dept, has a class that is helpful. The class is both for the children and for their parents. The group discusses their fears and anxieties and helps both the kids/parents to identify signs of their anxiety, the avoidant behaviors and they help develop coping strategies. The children meet as a group and while they are meeting...the parents meet separately. If you don't have Kaiser...ask your pediatrician to refer you to a child therapist. If your daughter is not that expressive...sand play or play therapy may be an avenue you want to explore. Good luck Anonymous

Hi - I've started reading Raising An Emotionally Intelligent Child by Gottman - based on the book Emotional Intelligence (EQ). I'm trying to not repeat the lessons that my parents taught me about avoiding/hiding emotions, etc.. not that they had bad intentions, etc. It's a great read thus far, and I highly recommend it! There's a lot we can do to help our children work thru their sad/angry/frustrated feelings - and not ignoring them. Good luck!

I am sorry that she is going through this and I am sure this must be very worrisome for you. I have an 8-year-old daughter who is a very emotional child, just as I was. When I was a young girl I had frequent bouts of crying. I think that my parents dismissed a lot of my feelings because they thought that was just they way I was, and they were dealing with their own divorce. They did try and put me in therapy but they did not search for someone that was right for me, they did not continue any therapy, and most importantly they were not available as I needed them.

My problems increased without this support which led to depression in adolescence and an abusive boyfriend in high school. Please do not dismiss any of her feelings, keep looking into the problem, and give her as much attention and support as you can. Also know that each stage of development always has room for a lot of change and growth.

It sounds like you, and/or your daughter, could use some professional support. I would like to recommend Rosemary Bower, Ph.D in El Cerrito. Her number is (510) 233-8655. She is a very experienced child therapist, qualified with the courts, and her work is efficient. I think she has a sliding scale. More importantly you need to find out if she is a good match for your family.

I wish you and your family the best in dealing with this difficult time a concerned mother

Two recommendations for child therapists--both will want to work with your whole family some, but both have a lot of experience with children and families: Amy Wallerstein Friedman, LCSW 482-9889; Diane Ehrensafe, PhD, 547-4147. It's not terribly unusual for these kinds of concerns to arise after the death of a relative, and with children it sometimes takes a while for them to begin to express their concerns. Good luck to you and your family! Joanna

7-year-old son is withdrawn, talking about death

March 2003

I'm the father of a 7 year old son who seems to be suffering from depression.

The other day he was set off by needing a shampoo (which he hates) and ended up complaining that he ''can't do anything'' and he doesn't want to do anything and that ''everyting is a problem''. He doesn't want to get out of bed in the morning, and shows no enthusiasm for anything. When asked what he wants (to wear, to do, to eat for lunch, anything) he never has anything to say, but will have plenty to say about what he doesn't like after some one picks for him. He seems bored and resentful and is becoming less communicative.

He has always been moody and thoughtful (especially compared to his younger brother) but in the past 6 months he has become withdrawn, with fragile moods (up one minute, near tears the next), and becomes angry, cynical and lacking in confidence. He's woken up several times this month crying that he keeps thinking about dieing (his dieing, us dieing, etc). He's told me he thinks about it almost every night, and when he has a mood crash I can some times get out of him that ''I'm thinking about it again''. He has also said (and demonstrates) that he feels angry all the time, and tells he he's tried to stop being angry and can't stop. I think he's not very popular at school these days too - for obvious reasons. These feelings all the more obvious because he's sensitive, and very advanced verbally; he can make his feelings quite clear.

I grew up depressive (as did my mother) so these experiences sound very familiar to me. As an adult, my moods are well under control and quite manageable (I also take a light dose of Paxil). Our kids are adopted, but he seems to have picked up the family legacy when we signed the papers - he could not be more our son if he was biological. My partner does not understand depression because it's not in his family and he has never experienced the ongoing emotional snowfall that always threatens to smother us if we sit still. I've tried to arm my son with strategies that helped me - it won't last forever, keep busy, replace those feelings with something positive. Still, I want to look for professional resources.

Can anyone recommend a child therapist or child psychiatrist in the east bay to help us.

My son also showed similar thoughts and behaviors, escalating around the same age as yours (about 2 years ago). When he started expressing thoughts of ''wondering what it felt like to be dead'', we got a speedy referral from our pediatrician for psychologist Meshulam (''Shuli'') Plaves, on Ward St. in Berkeley. He met with my son weekly, and with me and my husband periodically, and it has helped immensely. He is now seeing him once or twice a month. While my son still has worries, and is working on his sometimes ''explosive'' anger response, he is definitely now a much happier child. Dr. Plaves helped us see that, at least in our son's case, much of his worry came from his own temperment and tendency to think deeply about things that most people don't think about until they are quite a bit older. I don't really know what they talk about specifically, but my son recognizes that it is helpful,and lets us know when he feels he needs to see Shuli more. I also want to mention that we were a little concerned about how my son would feel about us sending him to a psychologist. He was totally relieved. We let him know that the ''worry doctor'' was good at helping kids who had worries like he was expressing, and he couldn't wait to get started! Good luck. mom of formerly-morbid worrier

My ten year old son has been attending group therapy with several other boys dealing with issues similar to your son - sweet but very sensitive kids, feeling depressed about their lives. He enjoys it immensely and feels it has helped him deal with his life. He feels he has better control over his feelings and feels better about himself knowing other guys are going thru the same things. He sees a wonderful psychologist who facilitates the group and certainly has a very good grasp of my son's personality - Maria Antoniadis in Berkeley @ 649-3399. He has also seen Kathryn McCarthy in the same office and benefited from her help. The groups meet once a week for 1 hour @ $60 a session. They usually don't meet over the summer so now would be a good time to start. gail

Your message certainly struck a chord here. At about the same age, our son became an emotional wreck. He had always been intense, funny, high energy, sweet, etc. But he started going into out-of-control crying jags out of nowhere, screaming fits over things like taking a bath, saying negative things about himself and his world, feeling like no one understood him, and pretty much the stuff you're talking about. It only got worse; it was heartbreaking to see how miserable he was in his head. We finally went to see a child psychologist, who after background info and one visit with us parents understood it was not ''environmental,'' but far more complicated.

Our son is now 10 and 1/2, and he still sees Diane Ehrensaft. We adore her, she totally understands him, and she is a great resource. She is not pro-medication (we were anti-meds when we first came in), but she is very good at diagnosis and well- respected and well-connected in the pediatric community. Our son is on an anti-anxiety medication with a clinical anxiety diagnosis (depression being a variation, it depends on the kid). Diane has an especially great reputation working with young boys, and it can be a wait to get in to see her. Her number is 510-547-4147 and she is near Childrens Fairyland in Oakland. Good luck on your journey. Mom of Intense Child

My heart goes out to you and your son. From your description (and my personal battle with major depression for over 10 years), I hope you can find a good therapist soon. I would like to recommend mine- her name is Alisa Genovese, 286-7599. She is in Kensignton (right off Solano). I don't know if she works specifically with children, but if not, she will have excellent referrals. She is a mother or two and specializes in post- partum depression, so she is very familiar with depression as it relates to families. I have been to almost a dozen local therapists in the past 20 years and she is, by far, the most skilled practitioner I have ever worked with. Spiritual, but practical, compassionate, and down to earth. Best of luck to you. anon

My son has been sad and moody, too. Meg Zwieback 836-1450 has helped us. I think it's important to send a message to kids that one can take steps to fight depression rather than sitting back and letting it take over. Best of luck to you. anon

Cindy Blackett in Berkeley (her office is near intersection of Ashby & Telegraph) She sees a lot of children and I've heard good things about her from a co-worker. 540-5409 CL