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  • Important Words To Help Your Child With Depression When She Won't Open Up

    Child psychiatrist Dr. Cornelio Banaag gives tips on how to use words to get through to your child
    by Lei Dimarucut-Sison .
Important Words To Help Your Child With Depression When She Won't Open Up
PHOTO BY @twinsterphoto/iStock
  • If there’s one thing parents of tweens and teenagers fear now more than anything, it’s the possibility of their child falling into depression and doing self-harm. After YOLO by Renzo founder Sheila Guevara-Suntay shared an eye-opening account with SmartParenting.com.ph of how her 20-year-old son Renzo showed no signs of depression before he died by suicide in 2018, parents are now wondering: How do we know if our kids have depression? And, more importantly: How can we help our children who are suffering from depression?  

    Sheila mentioned that looking back, one of the strongest signs of Renzo’s depression she may have overlooked was isolation, or how he kept himself detached from family members. “Akala mo baka exams week nga lang, but when you look at it medyo nag-a-isolate na siya, he didn’t want to do regular activities.”

    According to Dr. Cornelio Banaag, renowned child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist, “Mahirap malaman [kung may depression]. The only way to find out is to engage the young person in a conversation.”

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    However, with our busy lives, most of our communication with friends and family members now happens online. Dr. Banaag says this is not the ideal scenario because “the face-to-face encounter, the pleasure of smiling at one another, and recognizing eye-to-eye contact, nababawasan.”

    And when parents do get a chance to talk to their children, Dr. Banaag observes that they tend to speak in an “inquisitive” manner.

    “Tayo, out of habit, parang inquisitory when talking to our children. ‘Kailan nangyari yun?’ ‘Bakit mo ginawa yun?’ ‘Bakit ka pa sumasama sa kanya, e ganun pala ugali niya?’ Parang lagi tayong merong mga judgmental statements rather than simply exploring and [listening].”


    “The child will stop talking when they feel that the discussion is being invasive. So be more sympathetic.”

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    What not to say, what to say instead

    The situation: Child seems sad, or in low spirits 

    Our tendency: “Nag-iinarte ka na naman, e.” 

    Instead, say: “Is there anything I can do to help you?” 

    Says Dr. Banaag, “When you tell your child ‘nag-iinarte’ siya, what he’s hearing is ‘you are minimizing me’ [binabalewala]. They feel worse because they want to be taken seriously.”

    The situation: Child wants to do something you don’t agree with

    Our tendency: “Naku, bahala ka dyan.” or “It’s up to you.” 

    Instead, say: “Don’t you think that might be risky? If you do that, what do you think might happen next? I know you absolutely like that, but I think it would be a really risky proposition, and I would rather not let you go”. 

    Says Dr. Banaag, “You set your foot down, pero hindi pinapagalitan.”

    The situation: Something unpleasant happens as a result of child’s actions

    Our tendency: “Ang tigas kasi ng ulo mo. Sinabi ko na yan sa iyo.”

    Instead, say: “Anak, you remember we talked about this? I was trying to avoid it, but this is where we are now and we have to solve this. I am with you. I am not blaming you. We can solve it together.” 

    Says Dr. Banaag, “They need reassurance na hindi mo siya ia-abandon just because nagkamali siya.”

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    The situation: Child is being disrespectful

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    Our tendency: We act on the extremes: we either retaliate by shouting back (‘Itigil mo yan, papaluin kita’), or we let the incident slide.

    Instead, say: “Don’t be disrespectful. I know you’re angry. You have the right to be angry, but don’t be disrespectful. If you are going to be disrespectful, let’s not talk. You stay in your room and I’ll stay in my room, and we’ll talk when we can talk.”

    Says Dr. Banaag, “You’re setting limits, you’re an authoritarian parent, not authoritative. As authoritarian parents, the authority emanates from you. Setting the limits emanates from you but not in command or pamamalo. The children will appreciate that better.” 

    The situation: Child is isolating himself but refuses to open up to you

    Our tendency: We usually let them be, thinking they will come around sooner or later. 

    Instead, talk to him and say: “Anak, I really don’t understand what’s going on, I wish you would tell me more. I want you to know that I just want to help. I am here. And if you think I can’t do it, I think we should seek out the help of other people.”

    “Your life is more important than anything for me. I can’t afford to lose you. ”

    Says Dr. Banaag, “Ipapakita mo yung value ng life niya para sa iyo. Very important yun.”

    In his 50 years of experience as a child and adult psychiatrist, Dr. Banaag says he has learned that these children would not really want to harm themselves if they felt they had another choice. 


    “Parents should know this: many kids don’t really want to kill themselves. They just want to be relieved of the distress. If they could find a better answer, they will not kill themselves.”

    “They just want to get rid of the situation they’re in, and sometimes they think there’s no other way but to kill [themselves],” he explains.

    Dr. Banaag encourages parents to be familiar with the other signs that point to an individual having tendencies to do self-harm, including a change in temperament, and a general loss of interest (Find out more here). 

    Seeking help

    “All mental health problems can be treated. Early recognition is the best policy to follow kaya alert tayo. Pag may nakikita ka na, patingnan na agad para ma-recognize.

    “Once defined as a mental disorder — anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, which is very common, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum — there is a way of treating that. There is treatment available for all of these. There may not be a permanent cure, but there is treatment.”

    Moreover, Dr. Banaag says there may be a need for “a different kind of parenting.”

    “Love your child unconditionally. Don’t set a condition — ‘Mamahalin lang kita pag mabait ka’ — hindi eh. “I love you. I don’t approve of what you did, but my love for you has not changed. I love you, because you’re my child.”

    Dr. Cornelio Banaag, Jr. is a Fellow and past President for three terms of the Philippine Psychiatric Association. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of the Philippines. Dr. Banaag holds clinic at Suite 312, MATI Building, The Medical City, Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City. Call The Medical City at +632-988-1000 local 5013 for inquiries on clinic schedules. 

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