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Warning signs of depression in your preteen

Updated on February 27, 2013

Being a mother of four boys I prepared myself for broken bones, school yard crushes and the demand for ever bigger and better toys.

So when at the age of ten one of my children developed a severe case of depression I completely missed the warnings signs, too distracted to realise that my once bubbly little boy was changing, becoming more withdrawn, awkward and angry.

By the time my child received the help and attention he needed, the warning signs of his depression were blaring loudly, and only in hindsight did I finally see how much I already had missed.

What are the warning signs of depression in preteens?

there are many different ways that you the parent/caregiver may be able to recognize the signs of depression in your child, there will be emotional changes, behaviour changes and sometimes even physical changes that can occur in your child and if you know what to look for you may be able to provide help before it develops into a severe case.

1. General sadness

This sign of depression can manifest in a few different ways, crying easily over the smallest of things, withdrawing from others around them, and carrying a sense of hopelessness into everything they do or attempt, seeing as how our children can normally be sad, watch and see how often and long these bouts of sadness last and if its more than a few times a week over a peroid of time, there could be a reason for concern

2. Anxiety

Panic attacks, tenseness and feelings of fear may be a sign of a deeper issue brewing, of emotions not being handled in a positive way, sometimes looking at what causes the anxiety may be a window into the deeper issue of the depression itself,

if going to school sets of a panic attack they may be experiencing some sort of external conflict that you may be able to help them resolve. but if your child has fear of failure, trying new things or being tense in old or new situations, you may need to seek some sort of professional advice on how best to help your child handle his negative emotions

3. Loss of interest

a sudden unexplained disinterest in activities that they once enjoyed, a lack of enthusiasm for anything new offered and a general bored attitude to activities that they once took great pleasure in.

can all be a sign of depression in your preteen, quiting sports or activities they once enjoyed completely , losing contact with friendships and seeming too not care where once it meant a great deal to them, is a clear sign that something is wrong and you may want to look further then just the flippant answer they may give

4. Appetite

changes in appetite can be a great physical warning sign of depression in a child, an increase of wanting to eat more as a way to comfort eat may result in some unexpected weight gain, where a loss in appetite and weight can be easier to hide but no less an important sign.

He or she may claim not to be hungry, pushing food around their plate or they may start hording food, hiding it away to eat later away from watching and perhaps critical eyes. It is all a sign of changing perceptions and how your child may be feeling about themselves.

5. Sleep pattern

One of the signs of depression can be a change in the sleep pattern of your child

They may start to have trouble falling or staying asleep, they may wake up many times during the night, start over-sleeping or getting up quite early, and of course this disturbance is going to affect every part of their life to school, relationships and how they cope in general on an everyday basis.

It can, as pointed out in the youtube video below, be a great conversation starter with your child, where you can express concern and love for their well being and give them a safe place to talk about how they are feeling and why they may not be sleeping so well

6. Turmoil and agitation

When children are growing, their brains and ability to cope are growing along with them and often they are unsure of how to deal with all the negative emotions brewing away inside of them.

This can often result in a lot of anger, worry, moodiness and irritability as well as an inability to sit still, stop fidgeting and pay attention.

It’s a lot to look out for I know, but nobody knows your child like the way you do or can with just a little time and attention, it’s so vital in our role as caregivers today, to be aware of the ever changing moods of our children, in this ever changing world of ours…

7. Sluggishness

This is again a physical change that may come with childhood depression, instead of childlike energy your child might slow down in some or all of his or her mannerisms. The way they talk, walk and react, almost like they have been put on slow motion, seeming almost sleepy in everything that they do, even the act of lifting their arm to put something away seems like a chore.

This was a sign that my son displayed early on and I simply put it down as he was always lost in a daydream, it wasn’t until later on that I learned that this was caused by his depression a kind of “why bother” attitude that stemmed from a very low self-esteem and a belief that he personally would fail anything he attempted so why even try… A sign I wish I hadn’t of missed

8. Withdrawal

Children suffering from depression or anxiety may find it easier to pull away from others then deal with problems that everyday life may present. This can be a general withdrawal from activities, a loss of interest in spending time with friends or family and often can result in their bedroom becoming an escape away from the prying eyes of others

9. Over demanding

Often kids can go the opposite direction of withdrawing, becoming clingy and whiney as they scramble to hold onto the relationships that make them feel secure, often taking any separation or rejection quite badly.

The constant need for reaffirmation can be very draining, and therefore this sign of childhood depression can be spotted early on if you know what changes you are looking for in your child.

10. Excess activity

This is a simple one and often can be overlooked in our busy day to day lives.

An increase of time spent on one activity to the exclusion of others, too much time spent playing computers games, reading, or watching TV can all become an escape for your child and can be a sign of depression starting to take hold

As its often easier to escape to another world then be in your own headspace, time on these distractions can become totally life consuming for your child, where every waking hour that they don’t have to spend on something else(like school or chores) they are consumed by their one activity

11. Self-harm

This sign can be both obvious and hidden as well as being one of the most scary to deal with as a parent of a depressed preteen.

Any sort of banging heads, hitting, chocking themselves or any other signs of causing themselves harm, should be a massive warning sign that there is some sort of emotional problem with your child.

But as scary as the visible signs of self-harm can be, it’s the ones that are often kept out of view, which scare me the most

Cutting or burning themselves is not always done in a visible place, it can be done on the top of legs, stomach, chest or any place that clothes will cover up the marks from prying eyes.

It can be often or just sometimes in moments of high stress but at the first hint of this warning sign action needs to be taken for your child even if they refuse to acknowledge that they have a problem, things can go from bad to worse so quickly

12. Suicide

The thought of a child committing suicide is almost too tragic to imagine, but unfortunately it is an ever rising problem in a lot of societies today

Any sign of suicidal thoughts or verbal expression of such thoughts should be taken very very seriously, no matter the age of the child, Reach out to the school counsellor, doctor or other social welfare agencies; they will all have information to help you help your child.

Effects of depression in children

Depression is a serious illness and the consequences of not taking action can be so very damaging


One of the immediate effects of depression in children is a loss of relationships with their immediate family, as they withdraw more and more into themselves.

it can also create a lot of difficulty, in forming new friendships and as they get older, the likely hood of them getting into abusive and negative relationships rises as they don’t believe they are worth anything more


As the emotions plummet our will to self-motivate drops with it. The longer the depression is untreated the more likely that their grades will drop, and recovering from this can be a very long road academically.

Drugs and alcohol

Drugs and alcohol can quickly become appealing to a depressed person, no matter the age. Children as young as 10 have been known to become addicted to a variety of drugs and alcohol as way to escape or self-medicate, but as they get older and the street drugs become more available, making this a huge problem for parents trying to help a depressed teen

Mental illness

Children who suffer from undiagnosed depression can later in life experience severe bouts of depression as well as other mental illness, making it so important for us parents to know our children’s mental health as well as their physical.

Risk taking

As a depressed child gets older they may start to take more risks than your average teen, speeding when driving, trouble with the law, trouble with school and authority. A total disregard for themselves and even others can be a result of long term untreated depression.

If you suspect that your child may be suffering from childhood depression reach out for help, mental health care providers, doctors and even school counsellors can be a great aid in finding the right way to handle this for you and your family.

More great information for parents


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    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 4 years ago from Australia



      thank you so much for your very caring comment, it is a hard road being a parent at the best of times let alone when there is something so wrong, my son thankfully is doing better now but it has been a hard 3 years.

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 4 years ago from Australia


      I am so glad that this might be a helpful read for your sister at such a difficult time, it can be hard knowing what is normal sadness and what is something that may be a sign of a deeper problem with your child.

      thanks for sharing this on

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 4 years ago from Australia

      Always exploring

      it is more common today to hear of kids being treated for depression and bipolar then it was when I was growing up, which is a good thing to see, the awareness of what children do struggle with ever rising. which is so important if we ever want to create real change.

      My son is doing well and we are almost out of the counselling now

    • nighthag profile image

      K.A.E Grove 4 years ago from Australia

      B in blogs

      it IS a lot to process, I've been wanting to share some of my experiences with dealing with this type of depression for a while, just wasn't sure where to start.

      It is heart breaking to watch your child go through something as hard as this, but the silver lining is that as parents we hold so much power for good in our hands, when it comes to helping our children. and with the right tools and attitude we can turn it around for them.

      I am glad this was helpful in highlighting what to watch out for in our children, they are so precious

    • profile image

      Ausseye 4 years ago

      Hi NightCare:

      The road of a caring, sharing and interested parent is never easy…..much of this particular glitch you have explained and explored and made it more personal. Hope your son is only in this as a temporary state and I know he has a grand mom. Wishing you all the best future.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

      So interesting and very much needed.

      Thank you for sharing ;I am sure many will benefit from reading this hub.

      Have a great day.


    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      Thank you for sharing this helpful information. I will be sure to pass it along to my sister. Her family recently suffered a loss of a loved one. This may help her to deal with any issues that may occur from it.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 4 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Very informative article with excellent warning signs to look for. I have a niece with bipolar depression that started at a young age. I hope your son is doing well. Thank you for sharing..

    • B in blogs profile image

      B in blogs 4 years ago from Alabama, USA

      Wow, that's a lot to process. Especially when any of those things can manifest in the average child from time to time (though hopefully some never do-like suicidal thoughts and drugs and alcohol). I worry about my sweet quiet child becoming depressed, especially because his interests and concerns are so much different than the rest of our family unit. Thanks for detailing what we should watch for!