Other children in the family
The needs of any other children in the family also require attention. Mothers with depression may only be able to care for and cope with the baby. They may not be able to cope with any other demands. Toddlers in particular can be difficult and a depressed or anxious mother may find it even harder to keep up.
One of the ways other family members can assist is to help care for the siblings of the baby.
Older children may feel rejected and confused if they no longer have time with their mother,because she is busy with the baby and depressed. Some one-on-one time with their mother is important. In this situation, help with the baby can be useful.
“I found it too hard to deal with a busy toddler. I just wanted her to go to other people so that they would look after her. She became too difficult for me to cope with. Now that I’m well, I can manage to keep her busy during the day. I now try to do special things with her when my husband comes home from work and he takes the baby”- Katie
What should I say to the children?
This will depend on the age of the child, their developmental stage, their ability to understand, and their own emotional state.
Some general guidelines
- Give a simple and brief explanation of behaviour. Don’t go into detail about underlying feelings or thoughts. For a preschool child, you might say,” mummy is resting because she is very tired”. You might want to give it a name such as “mummy has the go slows” or “mummy has the cries”, or mummy has the “grumps’ if irritable (agree on a family terminology).
- If “mummy” is having trouble responding with positive facial expressions then explain this by saying something like “mummy’s face is stiff – it is hard for her to move it but it will get better”.
- It is important to explain that “mummy will get better” but that you are not sure when. “The go slows can hang around for awhile but mummy will get better”.
- Children may secretly blame themselves. It is important to tell them that it is not their fault. “It is no ones fault and that this can happen sometimes in a family but it will go away”.
- Do not blame anyone.
- Explain to children that their mother is being looked after and getting help.
- Do not look to the children for emotional support.
- Children should not need to look after their mother – help them feel this is not their responsibility. (This is not the same as encouraging and praising them for helping with tasks)
- Don’t expect too much of your children – they are also having to adjust.
- Maintain their routines whenever possible
- Remember that children have an amazing capacity to ‘get through’ as long as they have someone they can feel close to