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My preschooler is depressed

Tiernan McKay is a freelance writer based in Denver, Colorado. Her writing has appeared in magazines such as Alive!, Occupational Health and Safety, Restaurants and Institutions, Tampa Bay and Arizona Woman. Right now, she is either ridi...

Early on-set depression

Depression is a grown-up word that doesn't discriminate when it comes to age. Have you ever wondered if your preschooler could be depressed? It's possible.

Many parents are familiar with the challenges and struggles associated with childhood depression but some would be surprised to know that even preschoolers are at risk. How do you know if your preschooler is depressed and what can you do about it?

Diapers and depression

Depression is a serious mood disorder that impacts millions of people without regard for race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomics or age. "Although it is not common, pre-school children definitely exhibit depression and it is evident as young as three or four months," says Natalie Robinson Garfield, a New York-based psychotherapist. We often think of depression as a condition that surfaces after processing life experiences but we can’t overlook the fact that very young children can also suffer from this disorder.

Read more: Is your child depressed? >>

A parent’s role

Aside from having the best perspective on a child’s daily routine and behaviors, parents can also greatly contribute to a child’s ability to overcome depression. A recent study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine highlights the importance of a parent’s role in the emotional development of a child. An adult (or even a teenager) who suffers from depression can seek professional treatment and monitor their progress but depressed preschoolers are completely reliant on their caretakers.

Read about 5 Simple ways to connect with your kids each day >>

Why is my preschooler depressed?

The causes of depression are as varied as the children who experience it. "Children who grow up in an impoverished home lacking food, attention, and love are often depressed; as well as children who have embattled family situations," says Garfield. "When I observed a therapeutic nursery group of 3- and 4-year-olds in a very low income project day care center, three out of six of them were depressed. There can also be chemical and physiological causes."

Beyond the blues: Kids and depression >>

Red flags

While a child may exhibit a few signs of depression, that, of course, does not mean they are depressed. Still, it's important to pay attention to your child's behavior for potential red flags. Garfield advises parents to look for the following possible indicators of depression:

  • A lack of smiling or laughing
  • A lack of curiosity and exploratory behavior
  • Isolated, anti-social tendencies
  • Irritability and whining
  • Ritualized, repetitive play with one toy or object
  • Aloof and/or clingy attitude with parents
  • Inability to be stimulated, amused or engaged by parents

Read about Depression in children: Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment >>

Listen to your gut

Just because your child has a bad day or two (or five) doesn’t mean he’s depressed. Still, there’s no tool more powerful than a parent’s intuition. When in doubt, listen to your gut. "Children and babies should be assessed for depression, just as they are seen for physical development," says Garfield. "If the pediatrician is not trained in emotional development, a developmental clinician should be consulted."

Read more about parenting preschoolers:

Fun things to do with your preschooler
Helping "moody" kids
Polite kids: Common courtesies revisited

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