Actions often speak louder than words. Children have a way of communicating what is happening in their own little worlds. Whether they realize it or not, whatever they say can be filtered through what it is they are doing. Behaviors such as social skills, academic performance, and self-destructive gestures are often clues that a child might develop depression.
Social skills in childhood are vital to building lasting relationships and leaning to navigate the world. Children with poorly developed skills feel inferior, insecure, and vulnerable. This inability is setting them up for depression as they discover they don't fit in like the others. They stand out, and not for a good reason.
As the child becomes a teen, if he has experienced enough social traumas, he's going to be at risk for developing depression. Again, as teenagers are prone to think in absolutes, periodic rejection is interpreted as constant rejection. If he is turned down for one date or from one sport's team, he believes he will never be able to get a date or play any sport. He begins to see himself as a loser and as someone who doesn't fit in with his peers.
It doesn't make sense that academic performance, on its own, is a predictor for depression, and on its own it isn't. But many children and teens feel a lot of pressure to be the best and to make good grades. Young children are taught that good grades are a sign of success and that they are smart. For teens, they are reminded that without stellar grades, their futures may be in jeopardy. If a child simply cannot do as well as his peers, he automatically assumes there is something wrong with him! Feelings of inadequacy can set in due to school experiences and set a child up for depression.
For academic performance to be seen as a predictor of depression, remember that what you are looking for is a significant change in performance, usually a decline. As children begin to experience negative feelings in their lives, it is hard for them to set those feelings aside to handle other tasks such as schoolwork. The bigger the feelings become, the more difficult it is for them to block those feeling out. A child may appear to not be studying or might be characterized by his teacher as lazy or as a child who is deliberately choosing not to do his work.
When a decline in school performance is present, it is best to consider the whole child before making a judgment. Many times, this performance is a cry out that a child is hurting and depression is not far behind.
If your child is not performing up to par in school, consider the following: Has the range of difficulty of the work changed? Is there a learning disability present? How is his physical health, his home life, his social life? Just one of these is enough to predict symptoms of depression may follow.
Self-destructive behaviors can take many forms. If you notice any of the following, take heed. These behaviors almost always have a degree of self-destructiveness in them: substance use, head banging or cutting, suicidal gestures, and delinquency.
Younger children will usually act out their feelings through banging their heads repeatedly against a wall, the floor, or a piece of furniture. They may also slap their heads. Cutting behaviors include excessive scratching, picking, and using objects to cut on their arms or legs. For some, this behavior is so severe that it can cause significant injuries.
Teens have many more resources to use if they wish to be self-destructive. The use of alcohol and drugs is an easy way to numb their pain but can also be dangerous. Cutting is typically done by female teens, and they usually hide this behavior. Suicidal gestures, when the teen might not wish to really die, can result in death or terrible bodily harm. Oppositional, defiant, and delinquent behaviors are other ways some teens try to hurt themselves.
Children have a much more difficult time explaining to you what they are feeling if they have acted in these ways. When you ask them what is wrong, they will typically shrug or say, “I don't know.” Their frustration about what they've done is apparent, but they can't express it. Teens who engage in these behaviors will tell you that they don't care or that they don't know how to feel about something. For some reason, they believe that doing
Depression cannot be overlooked as a resulting illness when a child responds to his world this way. Look for children who simply have no idea how to express themselves but in a calamitous way. This is the child who needs your immediate attention but cannot ask for help.