How can I talk with my depressed child about improving their grades or working more diligently on improving themselves?

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The depressed grades and the not working on themselves are symptoms of the depression.

We want to keep the main thing, the main thing. There is depression happening and it's affecting the child's functioning. Rather than trying to attack the symptoms, we want to go to the heart of what's happening and become curious about the depression. What has catalyzed the depression? Has this been a behavioral shift that's happened recently or is this more chronic? Again, like we've been saying, we want to look at genetics and any genetic predisposition.

We also want to look at pressure. As a parent, if my primary focus is on grades and self-improvement, it's possible that I might be coming from a little bit of a performance orientation or perfectionistic perspective on life. What that means for me as a parent, if that's my primary orientation and how I parent, is that I learned at some point that doing it perfectly and looking good on the outside, was going to help protect me in some way, from some negative consequence. From rejection, from whatever it might be. Maybe that's what was important to my parents and so I learned how to keep myself safe that way, now I'm trying to help my child perform and look good in a similar way.

That's going to be my work as a parent, if that is my way that I'm viewing my parenting. What's coming up in me that I'm needing my child to work on themselves or have those really high grades, versus being in that place of being really curious and compassionate about the depression and really addressing that first?

What we see is that if we begin to understand, perhaps the depression has started because of bullying or a classmate suicide or the loss of a primary relationship. Or maybe there's something happening in the home? Maybe the parents are going through a divorce or there's substance abuse or there's neglect happening?

We want to look at the big picture and when we begin to understand the larger global picture of what's causing the depression, and we can address the depression. Things like grades and self-improvement, self-actualization can surface and take priority because the child's psychic energy is freed up, if you will, to be able to deal with those things.

Very often safety is a primary need and we can't move up to those secondary and tertiary focuses until our safety is addressed. Depression or anxiety are telling us that something is not feeling safe enough to exist or to function. We want to attend to that first and grades and self-improvement will follow.

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Dr. Kevin Skinner