How to Help Your Child with Depression Succeed in School

February 3, 2021
Written by:
Sam Bowman

Guest post by Sam Bowman.

We all know that homeschool can be a challenging environment for kids. They’re attempting to engage academically while navigating the difficulties of personal growth and social pressures. Is it any wonder that when our children experience depression on top of that, they can find it hard to succeed to the extent that we know they’re intellectually capable?   

It’s not just that your child’s symptoms make it more difficult to engage with the rigors of learning — a recent study has found that there is a small but significant correlation between depression and later academic attainment. There is also the potential that the negative effect on their grades could exacerbate feelings of low self-esteem. This can then lead to a cycle that’s tough to break. The good news is neither you nor your child is powerless to break this cycle.  

This is a particularly apt time to review how you can help your child succeed. COVID-19 school closures have caused additional disruptions to schedules and teaching methods. They have led many parents to begin homeschooling rather than letting children return to traditional classrooms. This has caused issues for both parents and students. Let’s take a look at how you can recognize the signs of depression in your child and what you can do to help your child manage it. Your child’s depression may be an inescapable fact of your family’s lives, but you can come through it together. 

Recognizing Symptoms

It’s more difficult to find effective ways to help your child with depression succeed if you can’t spot the symptoms early enough. One of the main problems is that while many think they might know what depression looks like, it’s not clear cut and is often subjective. Mental illness in children does not always manifest in the same way as it does in adults. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) outlined that it is common for depression to combine with anxiety during childhood. This means that you need to look for more than just the traditional low moods when it comes to symptom identification. 

These could include: 

  • Changes in eating habits — noticeably eating more or less than usual. 
  • Altered sleep patterns — this can be both in the form of waking earlier or later, or interrupted sleep.
  • Attention shifts — they have trouble keeping their full attention on tasks. This might be particularly noticeable for parents who have homeschooled for much longer than the COVID era. 
  • Dangerous or risky behavior — their risky behavior is new or has gotten more pronounced. 
  • Low energy — they become fatigued more than usual or don’t have the energy to engage in activities. 
  • Dropping grades — not always a sure sign; some kids excel even through depression. However, a significant drop in grades can be common. 
  • Physical Symptoms — mental health distress can present in other areas of the body; this is often called psychogenic pain. Back pain, headaches, and stomachaches are common forms. 

Your child may also not realize that what they’re experiencing are symptoms of depression. This means that their schoolwork could be affected before either of you is in a position to do anything about it. Therefore, you must make an effort to understand how their behavior might be changing even if it’s not obvious. Then you can work together to make changes as soon as possible. 

Maintaining A Dialogue

Silence tends to only exacerbate depression. It’s true that, particularly when it comes to teenagers, parental communication is not always easy. However, it is essential to encourage an open and relaxed dialogue surrounding depression if you both are going to find ways for your child to succeed in homeschool despite it.   

Triggers are an important point of discussion. While depression can present from no clear source, there can be events that prompt and exacerbate symptoms. Talk with your kids about this and encourage openness when they experience them. Take discussing this gently and be aware that there may be elements of childhood trauma that may impact the behavior they exhibit too. Having the right support is important here. You may not be the right person to divulge the details of their trauma and triggers to. Instead, provide them with communication tools, such as access to counselors. 

It’s worth noting that depression can be exceedingly lonely. During our current COVID-19 crisis, the need to attend school from home may well result in a lack of socialization opportunities and contribute to the isolation that depression can breed, especially for learners who are new to homeschooling. Therefore it’s just as important to keep lines of communication open with their friends from their traditional school and their teachers until you’re comfortable teaching. Confirm procedures and practices for this, and make it easier for your child to make contact with them when they feel they might be struggling.  

Adopt Coping Mechanisms

To make sure that your child can still thrive through depression, you need to also help them discover practical tools. Mental illness can be confusing, as though your brain is rebelling against you. Your child wants to do well, but their body is preventing this. By introducing them to coping mechanisms, you’re giving them practical tools that empower them to succeed. 

It’s important to remember that while depression can make learning much more difficult, that doesn’t mean you should encourage your child to take multiple days off every time they start to feel bad. Much like in preventing parents from experiencing homeschool burnout, self-care can be an effective route. Explain to them the importance of taking regular breaks when using technology for learning instead of working in large blocks and then just shutting off. Explore what kinds of activities — art, video games, cooking, reading — can capture their focus at times of distress.  

In both adults and children, exercise is known to ease the symptoms of depression. This is because it releases endorphins and takes focus away from elements that might be worrying. With children, it can be useful to engage them in group activities, so that they can also disrupt the isolation they may be feeling when learning at home. There is also the potential to energize them and help them feel confident and capable of facing the homeschool day ahead of them. 

Conclusion

Depression is never easy to live with. For our children, it can be a particularly confusing and distressing experience that has the potential to affect their learning. However, you can help your child by maintaining a mutual awareness of symptoms, keeping the lines of communication open, and developing coping mechanisms together. Children are increasingly having to navigate mental illness, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t succeed at homeschool and beyond.

 

More About the Author

Sam Bowman is a writer who enjoys getting to utilize the internet for community without actually having to leave his house. In his spare time, he likes running, reading, and combining the two in a run to his local bookstore.