Children receive a series of immunizations to protect them from various diseases. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could immunize our children against depression? After all, a growing number of people struggle with depression…and, at a younger age. I realize there is no magic shot to prevent depression. Still, wouldn’t it be great to protect your child from depression? To find a way that even if they did experience depression, it would be less severe and shorter-lived?
Well, there may be a way to do just that! No, the answer is not a shot—it’s more of a lifestyle…skills you can teach your child to help protect them from depression. So far, we have explored how teaching our children 1) that their actions make a difference, 2) to help other people, and 3) to show gratitude can help protect them from depression. A fourth way to protect your child from depression is to…
Teach your children to have hope for tomorrow. When people experience depression, they become hopeless about the future. By teaching your child to have hope for tomorrow, you help create a mindset that can limit the severity and duration of depression.
What thought patterns create hope for tomorrow? Thought patterns that promote hope consider negative events to be 1) temporary, 2) caused by factors outside of the person’s character and ability, and are 3) confined to a specific situation. On the other hand, thought patterns that consider negative events to be permanent, caused by traits internal to the person, and permeating all of life promote feelings of despair.
How can a parent help a child develop this type of mindset? First, model a mindset of hope for your children. Listen to how you explain events.
· Do you explain negative events as temporary or do you say things like, “This always happens to me?” “I’ll never get this right?” Train yourself to recognize that most events are temporary, not permanent.
· Do you explain difficult circumstances as a result of your personal inadequacy and faulty character or do you look for those factors over which you have some control? Do you actively seek a solution you can work for or just assume “nothing I can do about that? It’s just the way I am.” Teach yourself to find those factors over which you have control and take action rather than dwelling on those aspects over which you have no control.
· Do you view negative situations as affecting your whole life (“You ruined my life;” “You just ruined my whole day.”) or do you realize an incident is an incident (“That statement hurt my feelings;” “That driver cut me off.”). Practice letting a mole hill be a mole hill rather than escalating it into a mountain.
Also, be careful how you speak to your child when he experiences a setback or when he misbehaves. Your child is listening to every word you say…even if they look like they are ignoring you. And, he will develop thought patterns of hope or despair based on your discipline, criticism, and passing suggestions.
· If your child hears that his misbehavior or setback is permanent rather than temporary, he may despair and become more susceptible to depression. After all, “I’m no good; I’ll never amount to anything.”
· If your child hears that his misbehavior is due to his character fault, what hope is there to change? After all, “I can’t control my temper, I’m just like so-and-so. I have an anger problem.”
· And, if your child hears that his failure is all-inclusive rather than specific, he may believe he is helpless. After all, “Everything I do is a disaster.”
Discipline lovingly and carefully. Honor your child even in the midst of discipline by letting him know that “he can learn from his mistakes and do better” (internal control). Let him know that you “recognize his successes in other areas” (specific). Teach him that he can change his behavior and make a better choice next time (temporary). This will promote a mindset that looks at setbacks, mistakes, and even misbehavior as temporary, specific, and confined to a specific situation—a mindset of hope.