Depression in Children

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Truth: Children get depressed.

Depression is not just an adult problem. People of any age are susceptible to depression. But the signs in children may be different.

Depression in children is not always apparent. In fact, one of the main signs of depression in a child is something that can easily be mistook for a behavior issue: irritability. Children often do not have the cognitive skills necessary to articulate how they are feeling.  A child who is extremely irritable on a regular basis could be showing symptoms of depression. And children do face pressures that can cause stress.

It’s not always easy to diagnose depression in a child, but it’s something to be aware of. Treatment is available. If you’re concerned your child could be depressed, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor, especially if there is a history of depression in your family. Depression can run in families, and children are particularly susceptible to depression if a parent is depressed as well.

You know your child better than anyone. If something is off, it’s a good idea to take a closer look.

Encouraging Individuality

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

There are things that your child might do and wear that make you cringe. For example, Kira got her tongue pierced a few years back and all I could think was, “Ouch!” (And, “Stop lisping!”) Yet she was happy, and who were we to tell her who to be? Admittedly, she was over 18 and could make her own decisions, but she still lived with us and I suppose we could have “laid down the law”. But that would have only bred frustration and animosity. [Fast-forward a few years and she figured out on her own that the tongue piercing made it difficult to get the jobs she wanted – and there is a hole in her tongue that remains to this day].

It can be even harder when your child is not 18 yet but still desiring the freedom to express themselves. We certainly put limits on it, such as restricting piercings to ears only and forbidding tattoos before 18, because we do feel the kids need to be emotionally mature enough to make permanent or semi-permanent decisions about their bodies. But if the kids want to dye her hair random colors, or wear crazy outfits that don’t suit my OCD-inspired need to match from head to toe, so what? Hair grows out. Styles change.

All of our children have their own personal style which they embrace and love. As long as it is appropriate and they have good behavior, to us there isn’t a problem.

The thing is, looks are definitely deceiving. Some of the nicest people we have ever known have been covered from head to toe in tattoos and piercings. As children we have to restrict their expression to some extent but parents need to remember that outside appearances don’t tell the whole story – and teach our kids tolerance and appreciation for difference.

A teenager who likes the gothic style is not guaranteed to be depressed. Listening to heavy metal music, as Parker does, does not make him an angry person. Being blonde does not make you unintelligent.

Perhaps if we all celebrated our own unique and wonderful selves a little more we’d be less inclined to judge.

Something to Fear

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

pebThere are rational and irrational fears. Children especially can be fearful because there is so much they don’t know. As a parent it can seem silly, but not taking a child’s fear seriously can make things much worse.

Your child might be scared of the dark, a stuffed animal, loud noises, swimming, or the color of peanut butter. As a parent, you don’t want your child to be upset or scared. Your first instinct might be to turn the lights off or toss them into a pool to show them that nothing’s wrong. Well-meaning, but forcing your child into an uncomfortable situation can potentially be traumatic.

Solving a problem always starts with a conversation. Find out why your child is frightened and discuss ways to either lessen their fear or at least work around it. A nightlight could make a huge difference and “special” goggles might make the pool approachable. See what your child is willing to try and the problem might fix itself. You are their safety net and you always them to think of you that way. If that means an extra check under the bed every night, then why not. There’s no harm in it.

Stress Management for Kids

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

parkerI have a confession. Every weekend, Dave and I play Mario Kart on our Wii. It’s more than just a video game. It’s a way to recognize that it is the weekend, that the work week is over. And it’s a way to relieve stress. During the game as we race, we get wildly competitive, scream and yell, and really let loose. It’s a wonderful stress release, much like our morning walks during the week.

When your children get upset, regardless of age, they feel many of the emotions that adults do, including anger and stress. Things get messy (sometimes literally) when your child has all of these emotions flying around but doesn’t know how to handle them yet. Younger children especially might throw toys or lash out physically.

Teach Your Child to Manage Stress

Even when a child is too young for critical thinking, there are better ways to handle a tough situation besides kicking mom in the shin and throwing legos. Expose your child to some harmless forms of stress relief.

  • Engage your child in physical activity. Run around outside, crank the music and dance, or jump up and down to release stress in a healthy way.
  • If screaming tends to be the release your child turns to, give them a safe outlet to get it out. Teach them how to scream into a pillow when frustrated, or have a 2-minute yell zone that helps them get the stress out.
  • If your child is prone to throwing things when frustrated, take them out and throw a ball with them or even let them throw clods of dirt at a tree or something.

Finding safe outlets for your child will give them relief and the ability to understand that their anger and stress is ok. How they handle it is what is important and soon they will hopefully be able to use more words than actions.

Discipline and Your Kids: Always Follow Through


It doesn’t seem to matter if your kids are 2 or 12 or 17 and 3/4. All kids know exactly how to push buttons and they are completely ok with pressing every one of them (as if it were their full time job). Sometimes, it feels like my buttons are big and red and say “PRESS ME NOW.” The thing is, when kids are misbehaving, you can’t ignore it and you can’t dismiss it (even if you’re tired, at the end of your rope, or are on your last button). You know you have to dole out some sort of consequence, but wow, parenting is exhausting.

It’s when they’ve worn you out the most that you have to be committed to following through.

If you tell your that Action A will lead to Consequence B and Action A has been set in motion, you have two choices: You give the kid the promised consequence, or you don’t. If you do, your child learns that every choice has a consequence and that the boundaries you promise exist really do.

If you don’t, chaos ensues.

No, really. Maybe not all at once. But if your kids learn that their bad choices or poor behaviors don’t have the consequences they thought (and they will test) then they’ll assume that you’ve lost control, that they are in control, and that they can get away with that behavior and more.

It multiplies exponentially, too, so that if you aren’t following through when your kids are young, it will be even harder to regain control when they get older. Many parents make the mistake of threatening with something that they either can’t deliver or don’t feel comfortable doing, so keeping your consequences enforceable helps.

Our son would occasionally throw a very embarrassing and loud temper tantrum in restaurants. The first time it happened, we were embarrassed but tried to quickl quiet him. The next time we went out, we told him before we ever got out of the car that if he didn’t behave, we would leave. We didn’t even get a chance to finish reading the menu and he was throwing a tantrum. Dave and looked at each other and made a critical choice that has paid off since: we took him out of the high chair, thanked the waitress, left her a tip anyway, and walked out.

DId it suck that the one time we finally managed to have money, time, and energy to go to a restaurant we’d been dying to try that we couldn’t stay? Oh yeah. Would it have sucked more if we’d have coddled our son through his tantrum and not followed through on our consequence? I’m certain of it.

As much as it sucks being the bad guy, sometimes you have to. Kids need boundaries. It’s not always pleasant but it’s better than the disrespect you’ll earn later.

Disclaimer: the son mentioned above is child #4. We had a lot of practice getting here and still aren’t perfect at it. But we keep trying!

How do you handle these kind of discpline issues with your kids?


Time-Out Doesn’t Work: Now What?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

tantrumYour child has earned time in the corner again, like every child is bound to do. Problem is, your child doesn’t quite mind time-out. They practically mock you as they smile and sing in the corner as if nothing was amiss. Clearly you need a new tactic.

Each child is going to react to rewards and punishments differently. If the traditional methods aren’t working, you need to assess the situation and decide what would really send the message home to your child. You may have to restrict privileges such as a favorite toy or television show, or even go as far as keeping your child home from something they were really looking forward to. One missed bowling party will show that you mean business.

It might feel a little cruel to go beyond time-out and no, this isn’t going to be fun for you, either. But if your child isn’t getting the message, you have to let them know that poor behavior is not acceptable. They will get the hint eventually. Just remember to start small and escalate only as needed (and always add a touch of love). Most importantly, you have to be able to follow through.

They will call you bluff, and that’s not a position you want to be in. Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.

[Tweet “Rules are in place for a reason; it’s out of love, not dominance.#parenting”]

Breed Curiosity and Adventure in Your Kids

20130908_135630Everyone has their comfort zone, no matter the age. We all have a preferred activity or lifestyle, and it is hard to stray into the unknown. But we are probably born with a passion for curiosity. What changes?  Maybe we become complacent or simply learn to fear what we don’t know. But you have to think about your reaction to life in general, because that is what you’ll be passing on to your kids.

Children take on the qualities of those who surround them, which is most often the parents. Therefore, a parent who encourages a child to try new things most likely does so themselves. And whether you realize it or not, you’re teaching your child about the world indirectly. Anxiety especially is easy to pick up on. Children can sense if you’re nervous about something and will copy your behavior. Just like that, your child can learn to fear something even if they haven’t experienced it.

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This is not to say you should fake it for your child. But when you take an opportunity to broaden your own horizons and set an example, your child may benefit. No one’s asking you to start mountain climbing to face your fear of heights. It could be something as small as trying a new food. You may have fears that your child does not. Be proud that your child can do things you can’t and support them the best you can. Pushing the limits is not a bad thing, and teaching your child that everyone’s limits are different is not a bad lesson either.

Discover the Why Behind Your Child’s Behavior

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

tantrumChildren of all ages engage in irritating behaviors that are likely to drive you crazy. Sometimes, it seems like it is wired into their systems to figure out exactly what provokes parents the most and then repeat the behavior as much as possible.

As much as we love our children, they are expert button-pushers at every age, but sometimes those behaviors are worth a closer look.

Causes of Behavior Issues in Toddlers, Tweens, and Teens

Most disruptive behaviors are the result of some trigger. While asking your toddler, tween, or teenager exactly why they are engaging in some sort of behavior  might result in a flippant response like, “Because I can,” or something vague like, “I don’t know,” there usually is a reason. You just have to figure it out, and because you’re the parent, you also get to play the role of metaphorical dentist and do some teeth pulling.

At any age, disruptive or obnoxious behavior may simply be an effort to get attention. But it can also be a sign of anxiety or insecurity. Jealousy or resentment is also common, especially if changes have been made to the family, such as a new baby or stepparent. School issues may cause behaviors at home, whether it’s younger children being scared or older children experiencing frustration, peer pressure, or academic pressure.

Why You Need to Discover the Why of Your Child’s Behavior

Sometimes, behaviors from your kids are more than just an irritant; they are a sign that something is not right. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover what’s underneath the monster who took over your child whose goal is to drive you crazy.

Taking the time to discover the why behind your child’s behavior will bring you closer and you’ll get to know your child that much better.

Are Video Games Corrupting Your Child?

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

violent video gamesViolent video games are always getting the blame for the destruction of today’s innocent youth. Yes, it must be the violent video games that are teaching children poor values, right? Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at what the culprit might really be.

Violent media in general could certainly be contributing to how children understand the world. It’s not exactly what we would like our children to be learning, but it’s what is out there to an extent. But what happens to be more harmful than the presence of violence is the absence of parental guidance. If you haven’t spoken to your child about the nature of the games they play and played them yourself, you don’t even have an idea what you’re up against.

[Tweet “More harmful than the presence of violence is the absence of parental guidance.”]

Video games have ratings for a reason. If they are rated M for Mature, perhaps your pre-adolescent shouldn’t be playing those. But if you view a game and can talk on a competent level with your child about proper behavior and values, it might be acceptable for your child’s personal level of maturity.

At the end of the day, it is only a game. What is essential — as with everything with raising kids — is your involvement in your child’s life. Talk to them about what they are exposed to, and they will be able to prepare for it and face it with the values you have taught them. Violent video games alone are not going to predict behavior. In fact, a new study says that violent video games can increase moral awareness. involvement and a supportive environment have a greater effect.

[Tweet “Parenting tip #487: Essential to #parenting is your involvement in your child’s life.”]

#Balance: Don’t Force Extracurricular Activities on Your Kids

adb dance 3_0001Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Even before your first child is born, you spend time thinking about everything you want them to accomplish: the sports you would like them to play, the careers they could pursue, how amazing their life will be. Extracurricular activities in particular have an emphasis, as there is some notion that children must be constantly stimulated and the earlier you start molding them into their future selves the better.

Please stop.

[Tweet “Fostering the talents and desires each child has is important, but the child should be the guide.”]

While we totally believe in fostering the talents and desires each child has, the child should be the guide. With Kira, it was cheerleading, which lasted through college. Parker has been drumming since before he could walk, and by the time he was six, he had his own drum set. His love of music has grown, and over time he has been given a keyboard and guitars. This year he has decided to pack up the drums and focus exclusively on guitar. We may have pictured him as a famous drummer, but he has other plans (and given the reputation of drummers being the first one to go in a band, I’m ok). Parker takes guitar lessons, and he wants to be a musician. He is motivated and dedicated to achieving this goal, but it was his, not ours. Anika has wanted to learn ballet since she was a toddler, but rather than start with formal lessons, we bought her a Bella Danceralla for Christmas when she was little, and then another. When it was clear this was not just a passing fancy for her, we enrolled her in a weekly ballet lesson. She is now in her sixth year.

But it always broke my heart to go to Anika’s dance studio and see little two-year-old girls being forced to take dance lessons by moms who might have been fulfilling their own missed opportunity, when it was clear all the child really wanted to do was play with the toys in the lobby of the dance studio. It doesn’t take too long for children to resent mandatory lessons, but what is even more unfortunate is parents who place undue pressure on a child to succeed. It can quickly turn something that was previously enjoyable into a nightmare.

When children are young, they really don’t need to be occupied with appointments and sessions every day. Most are pretty content with a large cardboard box and their imaginations. Kids simply need the time and space to be creative and they’ll discover their own joys in life.

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