Problems with Social Skills
From a young age, poor socialization skills can put children at risk for depression. A young child who has spent very little time around other kids will not always know how to respond, play, and share. Despite their young ages, children are intuitive and they begin early to reject others from their crowd.
A child without these abilities gets left behind. Perhaps the more she tries to include herself, the more she is ignored. If she initially tried playing nice, she may become more aggressive. When this doesn't work, she is left adrift. Feelings of shame, loneliness, and helplessness emerge.
Many experts think that being the class clown, the rebel, or the bully is a response to depression, and they are right. But it can also turn the other way around. Children are typically desperate to fit in. They may see others as being more popular, smarter, or more athletic. In trying to compete, or at least get some attention for themselves, these so-called personalities are formed.
Before your child reaches school age, it is crucial that you involve him in activities with other children his age. Play dates, church centers, preschools, parks, and parties are great places to slowly help your child develop skills for interacting with other children. In addition to developing the skills, he will also be able to ward off depression.
At first glance, class clowns are fun. They make people laugh and they are great antidotes to a boring classroom. But some children behave this way as a sort of compensation for how they really are — shy, lonely, needy, and scared. Their needs for attention and to be liked are so great that this seems like a perfect way to get them met. And they do receive positive feedback. Kids laugh at them and invite them to participate with the crowd. Parents tell their friends what a clown their little boy is and how he can make them laugh until they cry.
Who wouldn't want that kind of thing said about him? What you need to watch for is the child who is trying so hard to fit in that he'll do anything to get that laugh or that momentary attention. When it doesn't come his way, this kind of child has no idea what to do. It doesn't occur to him that perhaps it's just his material that's not funny. He takes it personally and wonders what he is doing wrong. Having no other way to get his needs met puts him at risk for the development of depression.
The rebel is usually a combative, curious, and stand-alone kind of kid. When there are rules, he wants to know the “whys” and “how comes” behind them. He will debate with you why the rule is stupid and why no one should have to do it. In a classroom, he might encourage dissension among the students. He doesn't know it, but he has the need to stand out.
Rather than doing it in a pleasurable manner, like his pal the class clown, he is in your face, disagreeable, and a bit angry. When called down for his behavior, he is often the child who cannot take any personal responsibility for his behavior. It is always the teacher's or another person's fault, but not his.
An inability to be personally accountable or to be able to honestly appraise one's self puts him in danger of becoming depressed. The more he blames others, such as his fellow students, the more unpopular he will become. Even though he is loathe to admit it, he secretly would like to have friends and be accepted. As his antics increase, the less he is liked and the more likely he is to have self-esteem issues. Low self-esteem opens him up for depressive symptoms.
If your child tends to be a rebel, help him to understand the difference between rebellion and healthy disagreement. It's okay for him to question authority and to debate issues in a respectful manner. Teaching him respect for himself, others, and his choices will help to protect him against depression.
Much is being written and studied about bullies. For most children who aren't the bullying type, they will tell you they have a healthy respect for bullies and try to stay out of their way. Bullies interact with other kids through intimidation, physical force, and mental abuse.
While they aren't very likeable, these children have learned to behave this way. Perhaps they are bullied at home by an abusive parent or a sibling. Maybe that's the only way he gets heard in his family, so he thinks he must be like a bull in a china shop with everyone else.
What you need to know is this: As much as you don't like them and as angry as you can become if your children are their victims, bullies are demanding attention. Unfortunately, for many of these children, negative attention is better than no attention. But having others view you negatively does take its toll. The bully is just as much in peril when it comes to developing depressive symptoms as the very likeable class clown and the more tolerable rebel.
Children who are socially immature or lack the skills to navigate their relationships with peers are at a distinct disadvantage. While being popular is not the goal here, you want your children to have as many positive experiences in friendships as possible. The skills necessary for building relationships are also fundamentally important to their self-esteem. A child who knows she is valued and cared for, by even just a few people, is at a much smaller risk for depression than the child who feels like a misfit.