How to Handle Depressed Toddlers

It’s a nightmare to deal with a miserable kid – the crying, the whining and the shrieking can get the better of you. If your child has gone from happy-go-lucky to sad, stoic and disagreeable some investigating is in order. One reason for this downturn in your toddler’s behavior may be unexpected: depression.

While many parents put depression in youngsters down to feelings of insecurity, abandonment or discomfort, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh say feelings of depression in children can often come about from lack of sleep — theirs, not yours.

Danger of Long-Term Problems

According to the National Sleep Foundation, when a minor suffers from depressive feelings as a result of a lack of sleep, it’s usually because of disorders like insomnia – pretty common among younger children. A study by the University of California shows that children with insomnia-related sleep problems are more likely to demonstrate long-term issues. Mood changes and severe anxiety can develop, making it harder for your tot to take pleasure in the simple things that make being a kid special — like playing in the park or enjoying the company of other children.

To reduce the risk of long-term issues, take action in a timely way. If symptoms of depression continue for more than two weeks, consult a pediatrician. If the doctor suspects depression, he is likely to point you in the direction of a psychiatrist or a mental health care professional who specializes in children. This is the first step in restoring the smiles to your little one’s face.

Signs of Depression

So how can you tell the difference between a toddler with real depression and the “I-didn’t-get-a-piece-of-candy-at-school-today” kind of blues? Depressive symptoms won’t be so fleeting, for one. Your child may go days at a time exhibiting social withdrawal, continuous sadness, irritability and sometimes violent outbursts. She may suddenly turn her back on the Spongebob cartoons she loved, or become indifferent to her favorite Teddy bear.

Serious Developments

Although it is significantly rarer in kids younger than 12, child depression is a serious issue. How serious? Some depressive children have been known to develop thoughts of suicide. Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine say that youngsters of toddler/preschool age can sometimes express the same signs of suicidal thoughts as depressed grown-ups do. If your toddler refuses to be around other children, becomes highly sensitive and cries a lot more than usual, seek medical advice.

Of course, any talk of self-inflicted injury is a major red flag. While it seems hard to believe that a lack of sleep could result in these kind of extreme emotions, never shrug off the signs of toddler depression. Seek medical help — your child may need therapy and possibly medications to see her through this difficult time. Never, ever try to handle things on your own.

Breaking the Cycle

The problem with sleep-related depression is that it can often lead to a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep gives way to depression, which gives way to even more lack of sleep, which gives way to deeper depression. Goodbye, sweet dreams! Helping your little one get much-needed sleep is easier than you might think, according to Scholastic Parent’s Guide. Setting the mood come bedtime is a crucial part of encouraging sleepiness. Avoid loud music, keep activity to a minimum, turn the television off.

Establishing a consistent “it’s time for bed” feeling in the house will make it a great deal easier for your tot to actually fall asleep! Read your child a story in which bedtime is a major theme — hearing tales about fuzzy little animals preparing to hibernate in a warm and cozy cave will encourage feelings of sleepiness.

About Naps

Don’t overlook nap time as a contributing factor to sleeplessness. Rafael Pelayo, author of “Sleep Makes me Tired” suggests no more than 90 minutes of napping per day for toddlers. Napping conserves energy, so it’s wise not to let your little one conserve enough to last past her bedtime! If limiting nap time is still not resulting in increased sleepiness at bedtime, consult your pediatrician. Sometimes it is necessary to reduce daytime sleeping even more drastically to help little ones sleep at night.

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