There is nothing you can do to shield your child from loss. Pets die, people die, and relationships change. For a child, loss comes in all shapes and sizes, from something as seemingly unimportant as not getting invited to a party or feeling neglected to more serious concerns such as having an absent parent or a death in the family.
Adults understand that rejection occurs for many reasons, and that it isn't always their fault, but a child is particularly sensitive to it. For a child, rejection is a loss — a loss that feels extraordinarily huge. Because children are more apt to view things in terms of black and white, they perceive rejection as a loss from which they cannot recover. Not getting invited to a party suddenly seems like a major deal.
You as a parent, even if you know better, must honor your child's feelings. Help her to see that these setbacks are just that — temporary bad moments that promise to pass. Encourage her to focus on more positive experiences that she is having as a way to combat her feelings of loss.
The death of a parent or sibling can be devastating. Losing a parent can mean the destruction of the child's entire world, and it is hard to rebuild it without the child suffering some long-term impact. Like the loss of a parent, the death of a sibling is tragic, too, but sometimes even more damaging than the loss of a parent.
The child who is left behind often feels a lot of pressure to help the parent heal or to be everything the other sibling was to his parents. Kids also don't always know how to handle their parents' grief, which can take over the family and never leave. When this happens, the surviving child doesn't get the attention he needs to heal from this loss.
In addition, surviving children report that they can't live up to their parents' memories of the dead sibling because everything is about preserving that child's memory. It is not surprising that these children develop depressive symptoms.
A good indicator of whether a child will become depressed during a divorce is how the parents handle the changes and transitions. It is up to both of you to set aside your own feelings about the other and try together to present a united, loving, and secure world for your child.
Divorce also creates a loss for children even though there is no actual death. The child's world is turned upside down when routines are altered or a beloved parent no longer lives in the home. If a child is particularly close to the parent who leaves the home, he might feel sad, angry, and confused. He will often blame himself as being the cause for the divorce, although he is assured that is the farthest thing from the truth.
Often divorce makes children fearful of intimacy because they perceive that people leave, and thus they shy away from relationships that might have the potential to hurt them like the divorce of their parents did.
Conflict between the parents steals time away from the children, too. Adults who are too busy trying to navigate their own troubles often don't have the time or emotional fortitude to deal with their children's emotional development. This is not to say they don't love their children. They do, but they are spreading themselves thin trying to make everyone happy. The children are usually the first to suffer.
In addition, children learn how to cope by modeling what they see. If a child only knows how to be loved through fighting, screaming, and yelling, he tends to adopt the same skills. This sort of loss leads a child to develop negative or poor coping skills. This inability to cope, much like his parents' difficulties, can lead to depression.
A parenting style that treats a child as if he were perfect is putting him on the same path toward depression as quickly as if his parent was abusive. These are the children who never learn to be accountable for their behavior and their lives. Depression is the result of learning that they have unrealistic expectations of themselves.
If you are a single parent, you have to work doubly hard to lessen the occurrence of depression because you are keenly aware that your child is experiencing the loss of having two parents. In addition to your possible guilt about this, your time, energy, and resources are pulled much tighter than the traditional two-parent unit. Thus, it makes sense that you have to work extraordinarily harder to give your child what she needs.
If you feel you aren't living up to your own expectations, take an honest look at yourself. Most kids say they remember and cherish the time spent with a parent doing something together rather than seeing the house clean or having a home-cooked meal. Give yourself a break, and you might end up being an even better parent!
Parents too often get blamed for their children's troubles. However, there are aspects of parenting that are essential to the healthy emotional development of a child. Too much or too little structure can be damaging. The same is true for being too critical. Parenting is really a fine art, and one that you need to master to give your child a loving, depression-proof life. If you are at loose ends and don't know what needs to be done, buy a book on parenting. Better yet, don't be afraid to ask for help.