Being a kid is much different today than when we were growing up. Kids today are faced with more stressors than ever, and childhood depression is on the rise because of it. Recent studies have shown almost 10% of children and adolescents experience depression. A predominant cause of depression among children is being the victim of bullying. Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t discriminate and can happen to boys and girls of any ethnic, racial, religious, or socio-economic background. Lasting effects of being bullied include having low self-esteem and negative self-image, unhappiness at school and difficulty focusing, and trouble establishing healthy relationships with peers.
If you suspect your child is being bullied or suffering from depression, there are several things you can do. It is imperative that parents arm themselves with strategies to help their children cope with feelings of depression and address them sooner rather than later. First and foremost, they need to recognize the signs of depression. Watch for significant changes in behavior, sleep patterns, and diet. Make sure you have open lines of communication. Talk to them about both bullying and depression. This can include role-playing, asking open ended questions, and discussing the differences between teasing and bullying, as well as feeling a little sad vs. being depressed. Assure them they can talk to you about anything. Be your child’s advocate. Collaborate with their pediatrician, teachers, and school counselors to develop a long term plan. Consider allowing your child to talk to an expert. Sometimes kids are more willing to open up to someone other than you. Additionally, experts are experienced in dealing with such issues and can teach effective coping skills and strategies you may not be familiar with as a laymen.
Unfortunately, there usually isn’t a quick fix for depression, and it’s an ongoing process. In the meantime, though, one of the most effective and immediate ways to help them at home is by getting a pet. Pets have several benefits that help combat depression and help your child feel healthier, happier, and more connected. Pets offer uncomplicated, unconditional love. They don’t say hurtful things, get angry over petty misunderstandings, or hold grudges. They simply love and express joy every time they see their owners. They also offer constant companionship. Having a pet means never having to feel alone or isolated. Additionally, the act of petting a dog or cat (or any other pet, for that matter) offers physical touch and provides comfort, creating a soothing effect and releasing feel-good endorphins in the brain. In turn, this reduces stress and anxiety and helps your child feel calmer and more emotionally balanced.
Further, having a pet means your child will have an added responsibility. Contrary to what you may originally think, a new responsibility provides a distraction and offers a positive focus instead of what’s making her feel down. Plus, she’ll feel good about herself for taking care of something that needs her. She will feel capable, and this bolsters self-esteem and causes a ripple effect in all aspects of her life.
If you opt for a dog, part of the responsibilities will be walking it. This is another win-win for fighting depression. It will make your child be physically active, a well-known tool for negating depressive symptoms. It also is an excellent way to increase social interaction. People are always wanting to touch a puppy, and this leads to a natural conversation when they ask permission. Even if your child is anxious about talking to new people, dogs and pets are automatic ice breakers. Talking about their pet can easily guide the conversation with very little pressure on your child to generate small talk. If they are engaging in conversation, they are less likely to feel isolated and will benefit mentally from the interaction.
While there is no quick fix for depression, owning a pet has multiple benefits which will show their impact quickly. Having an unconditional friend to love can work wonders for building confidence and self-esteem and combatting the negative effects of bullying and depression. Pairing this with open communication and proper care to address the issue, your child will know they can rely on you and feel hopeful in overcoming their depression.