HEALTH PLUS: Depression exposes children to the chill of uncertainty, anxiety and fear, writes

Children are happy when
their parents are happy. The heart of a child is light when parents
show delight. For the young child, life is as simple as that.

love to see their parents laughing, smiling, joking, being energetic,
enthusiastic, animated and clearly at ease. They love to hear a chuckle
and see a sparkle in their eyes.

They love to see amusement on
their faces, a twitch, a twinkle or a broad and generous grin. Then
they know that life is good and that they are loved.

Given the
egocentric perspective of the toddler, when a parent is miserable, the
child feels guilty. They think their parents are sad because they are
bad. Reasoning in the young child is linear and causal: A equals B,
good children make parents happy and they know from parental expression
when parents are sad.

The world is bright when parents are
happy. It is a safe place. There is nothing to fear: no threats lurk
around corners; no monsters hide in cupboards; no fiends lie under beds.

the presence of parental happiness, nothing real or imaginary can
seriously beset the child, because if parents are not worried then a
child has no need to worry. A shield of smiles, a sword of humour and a
suit of emotional armour shelter the child in a happy home.

Parents’ moods are the barometer for life’s security, its atmosphere, its ambience and tone.

parents are smiling, life is safe. And children love the light sound of
a mother’s laugh, and the deep resounding reassurance of a father’s

They love shared family fun, for children are masters of the chuckle, the chortle, the titter, the giggle and the grin.

Research has been clear for some time about the deleterious impact of maternal and paternal depression on young children.

shows that mothers who are depressed are less likely to set clear
boundaries for their children, to create a reassuring daily routine, to
restrict their children’s TV watching or to engage in activities that
are encouraging for children, such as physical play, conversational
turn-taking, singing, reading stories, having spontaneous cuddles, hugs
and fun.

Mothers who are depressed often do not realise that
they are. Usually they feel guilty because they find parenting
demanding, exhausting, unsatisfying and so hard.

They may
experience their children as less manageable, more aggressive, less
responsive or more anxious, rejecting and withdrawing more than other
children. Sadly, this is often how children respond to maternal

Whereas parental happiness wraps a warm blanket of
security around the child and is one of the most protective factors in
a child’s mental world, depression exposes children to the chill of
uncertainty, anxiety and fear.

Maternal depression can influence
school-readiness in children and can interfere with their behavioural,
intellectual, social and emotional functioning.

Men whose
partners are depressed are also at risk of depression and children
whose parents are depressed are at increased risk of being depressed
unless they have good resilience through interactions with other adults
who can nurture and support them.

This is why it is so important
that we recognise maternal and paternal depression and encourage any
parents who are depressed to get help, if not for their own sakes, for
the sake of their children.

Given the high percentage of women
of childbearing age who are at risk of depression and the impact of
that depression on so many lives, vigilance among young mothers for
distress in each other is also important. Every parent needs some help
at some time.

There are degrees of happiness and unhappiness in
life. It is a continuum along which each of us is located at different
points, at different times, depending on circumstances, the supports
around us, and the challenges of the particular lifecycle stage we are
going through.

We need to know where we are on this scale, for our own sake and that of others.

children do not need all-singing, all-dancing, razzle-dazzle
clown-about parents all the time, they do need to know that life can be
fun, that adulthood is not overshadowed by dread and that the future is
not a place of misery. They need to witness their parents being happy,
see it, hear it, share it and join in the fun.

Children love
their parents deeply because parents are their world, reference point,
gauge of the temperature of life, models of living and examples of how
to live.

Source: Irish Times –