Just like adults, children and teenagers often exhibit signs of stress around the holidays. If a child is known to have depression, the holidays can be triggering. Children are like sponges; they can absorb the stress and anxiety from other around them and will react to their parents’ stress. Adults often stress about finances around the holidays, finding childcare for Christmas break, getting along with extended family at holiday events and even overcoming a loss that may have happened earlier in the year. These same holiday stressors can affect children as well. Many kids will feel anxious about going to a different daycare or childcare during Christmas break and may feel overwhelmed with finishing all their vacation homework during the long holiday break. Additionally, many children may feel sad because their parents are not in the position to spend money on presents this year. This can create a lot of social anxiety upon the return to school when many other kids are showing off their new Christmas toys and clothes. Children can also be deeply affected by the loss of a loved one that occurred earlier in the year. This may be their first Christmas without a grandparent or a parent. Regardless of the trigger, the holiday season can be challenging for some children and can lead to worsening depression that is more than just the holiday blues.
Holiday blues versus depression
The holiday blues is a temporary undefined condition that commonly presents with a sad mood around the holidays. Many children and adults can feel overwhelmed and feel a sense of loss around the holidays. These feelings of sadness and doom may arise because of financial burdens, the recent loss of a loved one or the fear of being alone for the holidays. The holiday blues is temporary and feelings of sadness will often dissipate. However, many people who think may have the holiday blues can actually have depression, which is a serious mood disorder that can result in negative and harmful behaviors in both adults and children. Sadness, feeling of guilt and loneliness, a loss of interest, changes in sleep and appetite, decreased energy, a decline in school performance and social isolation are all signs and symptoms associated with depression in children.
How to talk to your children about depression around the holidays
If your son or daughter is showing new or worsening signs of depression, it is important to talk to them. The holidays can be triggering for you child and addressing the issue should be the first step.
- Start by asking them if anything is bothering them and explain that you have noticed a change in their mood lately.
- Explain that the holidays can be a stressful time for everyone
- Ask if there is something you can do to make their holiday better
- If there is an obvious trigger, like a major life transition, give reassurance to your child and recognize and respect their triggers.
- Keep an open dialogue and remember that listening is usually better than talking
- Start a simple holiday tradition, like taking a walk to look at Christmas lights
- Seek family therapy if these simple steps don’t show improvement
- Be open to antidepressant medications and different types of psychotherapy
- Be patient. There are so many different treatment approaches and it can take time to find the right one for your child.