Depression and Play Therapy

All kids get sad at times, especially after an upsetting event. Usually kids recover after some time has passed. If you child stays sad, for many weeks or months, and they don’t seem to be getting any better, then they may have depression. Play therapy can help your child process their deep sadness through play.


Symptoms of Depression in Children

Your child might be depressed if you recognise that they show quite a few of the following symptoms:

  • They seem sad and unhappy most of the time

  • If they say many negative things about themselves e.g., “I’m dumb”, “I hate myself”, “No-one likes me”

  • If they seem tired and low in energy a lot more than they usually do

  • If they stop wanting to play with friends or be around family

  • If they stop enjoying playing, hobbies and other things that they used to enjoy

  • If they have problems concentrating or remembering things

  • Changes to sleeping and eating, i.e., eating/sleeping much more or much less than usual

  • Major weight loss or gain

How you can help

  • Tell your child that you’re really worried about them, that they seem so sad, and see if your child will open up to you.

  • Try to avoid suggesting that they ‘think positive’, ‘look on the bright side’, or suggest other ‘quick fix’ ideas. Instead, a really powerful and healing intervention is to use reflective listening, it will make your child feel like you really understand what is happening for them. For example, “You’re so sad, nothing will make you feel better”

  • Tell your child you are going to do everything you can to get them the help they need, so they don’t feel sad anymore.

  • It’s really important to seek professional help if you think your child may be depressed.

How Play Therapy can help

  • Children may not know why they are feeling depressed, or the feelings may be so powerful that it is scary to talk about them. Play therapy can help by letting the children ‘play out’ their sadness, rather than talk about it, even when they don’t know the reasons they are sad.

  • When children are able to ‘play the sadness out’, with the therapist’s help, they can process their strong feelings and have the power taken out of the strong emotion.

  • Play therapy helps children get to the root cause of their sadness, which then allows healing to take place. They can then play out different ways of feeling and being.

Christine Harkin
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