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Six-Year-Old Is Depressed
Q: My 6-year-old son, who has always been friendly, popular, and happy has been very emotional lately, over the past year. He says things like "Noboby likes me, I wish I was dead, I don't want to live here, I don't like you anymore...." I'm very concerned. He lives in a very stable two-parent home and we are concerned he's depressed. Is it normal for a 6-year-old to be so emotional?
A: It is not "normal" or healthy for a child to be this distressed for as long as you state. You say that he's been "very emotional lately," for the past year. But his emotionally overwhelmed, unhappy state has not been occurring just "lately." "Lately" means the past several weeks, not one year. Your son's death wishes, dislike of you, reports of being disliked by his peers, and wishes to move away have been going on long enough to have been considered depression some time ago. We don't want to believe that kids as young as six can be clinically depressed. But they can and do become depressed--chronically depressed--in surprisingly growing numbers.
You mention that your son has "always been friendly, popular, and happy" and appear at a loss to explain why he has undergone such dramatic personality and behavioral changes. Your son's and your own need for professional intervention and therapy is long overdue. You must discover why your little boy has become so chronically depressed (if that is the correct diagnosis) and cannot seem to resurrect himself from this dark place. Clearly, something has happened to cause these attitudinal and behavioral changes, within or outside of the family. He is not going to "snap out of it." You need a therapist's help in determining what has caused your son's continuous depressive thinking and how you may help him return to being that happy child you knew.
Please locate and interview several highly recommended child or family therapists in your area who have dealt with depression in kids this young. Select the one you feel that you and your boy would feel most comfortable seeing. Then begin the journey of restoring your boy's spirit, optimism, and sense of well being. Good luck.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.