By Nancy Roberts RN, CCE, CBC
Kids pick up on their parents’ moods and can sense when Mom is not quite herself. After the birth of a new baby in the family, older siblings may get worried if they see you crying a lot and may wonder why you aren’t spending as much time with them. Letting kids know (especially older kids) that you are not feeling well is a great idea.
You can say something as simple and straightforward as, “You’re right; I have been upset and tired lately. I have not been feeling well.” When their observations are validated, children are less likely to feel frightened or fear that your unhappiness is their fault.
Don’t forget to emphasize to the kids that you are getting help and will feel better soon. This way they will know that the adults in the family are taking charge and that you will be all right. And, of course, reinforcing how much you love them, despite not feeling well, goes a long way.
Tips for Talking to Kids About Postpartum Depression (PPD):
- Use simple, non-threatening words to describe how Mom is feeling: i.e. sad, cranky, tired, worried, grouchy .
- Reassure kids often that they did not cause this problem and it is not the baby’s fault.
- Let them know that PPD is not caused by germs and Mom did not “catch it” from anyone.
- Assure kids that Mom is getting help and will feel better soon.
- Let kids know that Mom may have some bad times along with the good times as she recovers.
- Ask kids to think of some ways they can help Mom feel better, like drawing pretty pictures, playing quietly while Mom rests, etc .
Keep children’s lives as normal as possible
Although it may be hard for Moms of new babies to continue parenting older children as usual, try to keep their lives as routine as possible. Enlist the help of your partner and support system to keep your other kids active outside of the home with school activities, etc. The more they can be involved with things that make them feel good and the more they can maintain their routine, the less your PPD will impact them.
Your kids might sense that you are depressed and that all is not perfect, but if their lives are the same as usual, they can be happily distracted as you work towards wellness. Work together as a team with your husband, partner and/or support persons to meet your kids’ needs. This is an important parenting principle, and is even more essential when you are not at your best. Working together with your partner is critical.
– Can I Catch It Like A Cold? A Story To Help Children Understand a Parent’s Depression by Gretchen Kelbaugh, 2002
– Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry by Bebe Moore Campbell, 2003
*Adapted from Perinatal Depression: Awareness in Action-Making a Difference, Virginia Department of Health
Nancy Roberts is a Registered Nurse, Certified Breastfeeding Counselor, and former Certified Childbirth Educator at Pine Rest’s Mother and Baby Partial Hospitalization Program in Grand Rapids.