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Can kids experience holiday depression?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Sad kids in a season of excitement

While the idea of a perfectly happy childhood with gleeful holiday seasons exists in many an imagination (and revisionist memory), kids can get depressed during the holidays just like adults. Kids are not immune to the pressure and expectation of the holidays -- all the while wondering why they aren’t feeling joy and happiness like “everyone else" in the family.

Sad girl at christmas

If your child is acting out of sorts during the holidays -- aside from the expected anticipatory acting out and bursting-out-of-their-skin energy -- you might want to consider whether your child is depressed. Yes, really. Rather than dismissing it, address it. You may be able to get in the Christmas spirit and make it a happier holiday for all of you.

Symptoms of depression in kids

While many of the symptoms of depression in kids may mirror that of adults, it can be easier to dismiss certain symptoms as "not enough sleep" or "excitement" or other things. However, persistence and pattern in symptoms likely warrants a deeper look.

Symptoms of depression in kids may include (but aren't limited to):

  • Increased sadness or irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness or undue guilt
  • Changes in sleeping patterns and appetite
  • Vague non-specific physical complaints, such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Loss of interest in otherwise enjoyed activities
  • Change in schoolwork
  • Reckless and impulsive behaviors
  • Outbursts of anger and hostility
  • Retreat into oneself

Like adults, depression can be triggered by any of a number of things, including recent loss, difficult memories, changing hormones or even light (seasonal affective disorder can start in adolescence).

Address it

If your child is showing a pattern of behavior that causes concern, address it. Start by finding a quiet time to ask your child about how they are feeling about the holidays. For some kids, just acknowledging that they are feeling pressure during this intense season is a start to healing and feeling better.

If there is an obvious trigger, like a change in living situation, whether by move or divorce, or it's the first holiday without a beloved family member (even a pet), you can reassure your child in an appropriate way and start to look for ways to assuage the sadness. For example, you could make sure you do something special to remember that lost family member -- or even if you can't have the exact snowy Christmas you had in the old house, states away, perhaps you can put on all your old hats and mittens and pretend for a morning? Small steps can make a big difference when addressing seasonal depression.

Get professional help

If simple steps don't show some improvement, seek professional help for your child's symptoms. Your child's pediatrician should be able to refer you to a mental health provider that specializes in kids' issues.

Just as in adults, sweeping issues under the rug does nothing to resolve them. If your child is showing symptoms of depression during the holidays, address it -- and your whole family may have a happier holiday as a result.

More on kids and stress

How yoga makes kids smarter
Relaxation techniques for kids
Helping kids manage stress

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