Childhood Depression Symptom or Bad Behavior?

A childhood depression symptom may look much like a symptom of adult depression or it may look very different. Children have less ability to verbalize their feelings and are more likely to give us clues about their inner state through their behavior.

Unfortunately the behavioral expression of childhood depression can result in adults viewing depressed children as having behavioral problems. Instead of being treated for mental illness, depressed children are often scolded, shamed and punished.

Imagine feeling depressed, lonely, generally bad about yourself and the world. It wouldn’t help you feel better to be told you are worthless, lazy, and hear the people you love constantly complain about you!

Early identification and treatment of depression results in children living happier, more productive and successful lives. Yet most adults that come in contact with children do not understand what a symptom of childhood depression looks like.


  • Depression in children is highly correlated with academic and social problems, suicide and later substance abuse.
  • Children who have one episode of depression will more than likely have other episodes in childhood or depression that persists into adulthood.
  • Depression in children a serious problem, but if identified early its impact can be lessened.
  • Many adults I see in therapy tell me they wish they had learned the coping skills and techniques to manage depression as a child. They feel strongly if someone had recognized their behavior as a symptom of childhood depression they would be much better off today.
  • Most parents and doctors do not know or understand what a childhood depression symptom is.

Below are some common child depression symptoms and the behaviors that accompany them.

They are unpleasant to be around

One very common childhood depression symptom is an irritable mood. Think, for a moment, about how you behave when irritable. You may snap at your coworkers, friends or spouse. You are likely to lose your temper and show very little patience. Children who are irritable may be rude, disrespectful, and may refuse to do what you ask. They are less likely to follow the rules at school or at home and frequently talk back to parents and teachers.

They complain of boredom

A child who is bored may bother you, follow you around the house and demand that you entertain them.

They no longer like to do things they used to think were fun

A child who is experiencing this childhood depression symptom will stop enjoying the activities they were the most interested in.

They may display changes in eating patterns or appetite

Children who experience this childhood depression symptom may seem picky and whiny or complain about their food. Children I see often complain about how the food is “bad” or doesn’t taste right.

They may not want to get up or go to bed

Children may sleep more or less than normal. Behaviorally, this can translate into refusal to go to school or to go to bed.

They may have low energy

Depressed children may complain of feeling tired and lack the energy to complete the tasks they need to do at home and school. This childhood depression symptom often causes children to behave in a way that can be misinterpreted as lazy. If parents or teachers describe a child as lazy I am immediately suspicious that the child is depressed.  Adults usually respond to this behavior by name calling “get your lazy self up!” or punishing.

They have thoughts of worthlessness or guilty feelings

Children who are depressed will often make negative self statements such as “I can't do this” or "I’m not good at anything". Busy parents often miss these statements or may be irritated by them. Younger children won’t attempt to complete tasks or activities because of fear that they are not good enough to do so. Kids with this childhood depression symptom may also blame themselves for things that they have nothing to do with.

They can’t concentrate

Kids with this childhood symptoms of depression may get labeled as ADHD! Then they are given stimulants which can have a disastrous affect if the child has bipolar disorder.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms include unpleasant behaviors such as tantrums, inability to handle frustration, complaining or crying. At school depressed children may be hostile or aggressive, display a drop in school performance, or may frequently go to the school nurse.

If you think your child is exhibiting these symptoms, and you have a family history of depression, than it is very likely that your child is depressed.

Leave child depression symptom to learn about about teen depression

Learn about child depression and support systems

Learn about Preschool depression

Learn about child depression treatment

Learn about depression in adult women

Learn about depression in men

Check out our online facebook support community for parents of kids with mood disorders 

Search my site with google custom search!

Medical information obtained from our website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.